One of the interesting things about being a postgraduate student is that I get asked to help out in a variety of different classes. Occasionally a professor just needs someone to supervise an exam but usually they need help leading a lab or giving a lecture while they are away at a conference or meeting. It helps develop my teaching style to work with a variety of different professors and classes. This week I was asked to help with a summer school class that I believe represents one of the best ways to teach. The final exam is a scenario based assessment. The class is BIOS 201 or Issues in New Zealand Biosecurity. The course teaches students the importance of biosecurity and the systems in place to protect New Zealand. The final assessment puts students into groups and they are given an actual scenario. This year the scenario was an outbreak of H1N1. The students have to work in teams and produce press releases, briefings to other governments, background papers, develop containment strategies and coordinate with other agencies. The scenario lasts several hours and as they are working other developments occur. This year about half way through they discovered the disease had spread to other farms and had to change their containment strategy. Then they discovered the people who smuggled in the virus were caught trying to flee New Zealand. Of course, they were caught by customs so the students had to coordinate with another agency. Meanwhile, reporters, police officers and MPs come in to the room and ask the students for an up to date briefing. The students bring their laptop so they can keep up to date as developments in the case are revealed and write up press releases. Because it is supposed to be similar to a real life scenario students are allowed to look up information on the internet, call people, or use any written materials they have on hand.
I love this assessment because it really pulls together everything the students learn in the course in a practical way. It is certainly extra work for the instructor to put together the scenario but the result is that the students learn far more than they would from a multiple choice exam or writing a paper.