Saturday, 27 April 2013

New Strategy: Online Quizzes

I'm working on a new strategy of incorporating online quizzes in my fall courses. I've used these type of assignments before, but only sporadically, and for larger classes of around 100 students. My new strategy is to integrate online quizzes for all my courses of twenty students or more, for at least a portion of the total grade.

There are a number of advantages to using online quizzes. First, you can design online quizzes to be automatically graded upon completion, and go directly to the gradebook on Blackboard. You can also set time limits for quizzes, and utilize different types of questions, such as true/false and multiple choice. You can allow students to see the correct answers to the questions that they miss (and with an explanation for those answers), or you can choose not to reveal the correct answers.

Another advantage is that students have more flexibility when taking online quizzes. I noticed in one of my courses this past semester that as many as one-fourth of the students were completing assignments between midnight and 5:00am. It might have been the case that several of these people had jobs that required them to work until late in the evening, or perhaps they were procrastinators. One of the benefits of an online quiz is that students can complete it at a time that is most convenient to them. Furthermore, with such flexibility, the professor does not need to entertain the usual excuses for not completing these kind of assignments. If they had all week to take a quiz, for instance, they will not be able to cite a twenty-four-hour illness as the reason they couldn't attend class to take the quiz.

The quizzes that I am setting up for the fall will be open book, timed, and in increments of ten questions that are either multiple choice or true/false. My intent is that the questions will be hard enough that a student can't guess at them and do well, but not too difficult so that a person who does the reading can't ace them. To deter groups from taking the quizzes at the same time, I am setting up a test bank with multiple questions for each quiz. This means that no two quizzes will be alike, and that the questions and order will differ for each person taking a quiz. Students enrolled in my fall courses will be required to take a quizz over the required reading before they come to class.  My hope is that students will come to each class having done the reading and ready to discuss the material. This past semester I discovered that the threat of pop quizzes did not work as well as I had planned. While some students consistently did the weekly reading, many tried to guess at when I would give a pop quiz, and, based on their estimates, decided whether or not they would read the required material that I had assigned.

I need to be fair and say that there is at least one major disadvantage to using online quizzes: the professor must do all the reading before the start of the course in order to write the questions for the quizzes. So, for the past week or so I went through Jonathan Edwards: A Life, A Jonathan Edwards Reader, and Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, putting together banks of quiz questions. Next week I will begin the process of writing quiz questions for my second course on "Religion in American Culture." The good news is that once you write the questions and store them on Blackboard, you can save your courses and import and export these if you teach that particular class again.

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