Teaching Tuesday: Quizzes in an Asynchronous Environment

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been committed to teaching my History 101: Western Civilization class in an asynchronous way over the internet for almost 3 years. In other words, I let the students engage the material at their own pace with very few deadlines other than the end of the semester. I defend my approach to teaching here.

One of the biggest challenges to teaching asynchronously is how to test students on content. History is one of those fields that remains committed to teaching some basic content and not just ambiguous catch words like “critical thinking”. As our course fulfills a global diversity requirement here at the University, there is even greater pressure on us to include an emphasis on content in such a way that demonstrates our students have achieved a degree of familiarity with various kinds of diversity in our world. While some of this can be achieved by writing assignments, and the course is relatively writing intensive, I’ve found that short, “multiple guess” type quizzes with each course content module also work to reinforce key ideas.

The problem with giving these quizzes in an asynchronous environment is that students regularly ask me for the answers to questions on the quizzes. Thus far, I’ve been reluctant to provide students with the answer key out of fear that the students will just circulate the key rather than engaging the material.  One student could take the quiz early, record the questions and answers and provide them to other students.  Pedagogically, I like the idea of showing the correct answers on the quiz, but this has the potential to create – very quickly – a culture of cheating in the class.

One solution that I have employed, it maintaining substantial banks of questions for each week. At present, I have over 250 questions for 16, 10 question quizzes. Unfortunately, I think I have maxed out my creativity and the quiz question bank seems unlikely to grow any more, any time soon. So, while a robust question bank will make it difficult to cheat in a consistent and predictable, it does the subvert the temptation to cheat easily in order to get a nice boost to your grade by knowing the answers to at least a few questions before the quiz began.

The other solution, offered by the staff in our Center for Instructional and Learning Technologies, is to simply let students take the quiz over again. Instead of offering the students the correct answers to each quiz question, let them take the quiz once and then retake it if they do not do as well as they like.

This might just work for a few reasons. First, my quizzes are not particularly difficult from a “critical thinking” or analytical standpoint. Mostly they ask students to demonstrate that they are familiar with a particular body of content.  Second, each quiz (and question in the bank) draw from a rather limited body of potential content.  In other words, once a students sees what I’m looking for in the quiz (and from a particular unit) the student should be able to master that content without much difficulty. Even if the quiz questions are different, they will still ask questions pertaining to the same body of information. They will not get two entirely different quizzes. Finally, this will reward students who approach the class in a deliberate way. They’ll have the time to take a quiz, see their grade, and retake it if necessary to improve their mark. Even if all students do the first time through the quiz is look at the questions and guess, taking the quiz again should help them focus their attention on key concepts from the particular learning module.

I think that I might allow students to take each quiz three times. In part, I like the number three and it will allow students to take a trial run to determine the concepts that I deem important, take it one time “for real”, and then take it one time to try to improve.

Any thoughts on this?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s