A Question of Quizzes

Tayuan Temple Chanting.jpg

Buddhist monks chanting at Tayuan Temple 塔院寺, Mt. Wutai, China, summer 2016. Photograph Peter Romaskiewicz.

Grading is one of the toughest parts of teaching. It also gives you immediate feedback on how well students are grasping the materials. Thus I’ve come to find that frequent, low stakes assessment is helpful in preparing students for larger and more complicated tasks.

In my summer course I’m having quizzes each week which review the material from the previous week. I’ve decided that quizzes will mostly be multiple-choice for a few reasons. First, these assessments are making sure students are familiar with basic terms and themes, mostly focused on recognition and recall. These ideas form the basis for more analytical and critical writing assignments in the coming weeks. Second, because of the pace of the course (we meet four time a week), I cannot spend too much time grading. Perfect for multiple choice.

The new angle I am trying this summer is online quizzes. Thus, I am also attempting to make this class hybrid, as I expect to teach a form of it fully online in the near future. The students have to take the quiz before they attend Monday’s class. I allow them a 36 hour window to take the test, opening it Sunday morning. To prepare them, and myself, for this new experience, I offered an online quiz (for minimal extra credit) on the syllabus after the first day of class.

I decided on the online quiz after much thought. The main concern I had was missing 10-15 minutes of class for these quizzes. I found them to be useful, even necessary, for low-level learning, but they also ate into lecture and discussion time. In addition, I was  hoping that automatic grading would save me time throughout the summer session.

I decided that I would make the quizzes open book and open note. Perhaps it is poor judgement on my part, but I just do not fully trust my students to not use notes for an assessment like this (!). This this is a concern I have for online quizzes, especially of the multiple choice variety. To counterbalance this leverage, I decided to make the quizzes timed, instructing my students that they would need to study beforehand in order to answer all of the questions. My hope with this set-up is that the students would get used to the type of questions I would ask and potentially become familiar with the adequacy of the notes they are taking. (The midterm and final are in-class.) The first quiz was 10 multiple choice questions with two short answer questions. The total time I allowed for the quiz was 15 minutes, just about the time I would allow in class.

I will review the use of online quizzes at the end of the course.


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