About ten days before the start of the current semester I was contacted to see if I would be willing to teach a section of Physical Geology (aka Geo 101). For me the request came as a mixed bag. On one hand I’ve always loved teaching geology — absolutely love it — while on the other hand, well, do I even need to say it, ten days to prepare for a class of 100 students for 1 hour and 20 minutes twice a week…! However, beyond the obvious, there was one other issue that sort of bothered me. As an academic technologist, I would have really liked to have had more time to test and incorporate some “non-traditional” technologies into the class that I think could have improved students’ learning experiences. However, with so little time to prepare I immediately realized that I was not going to be able to make any ambitious “tweaks” in how the class was taught this semester.
Enter Blackboard Online Quizzes
Fortunately for me, I had the amazing fortune to be able to work with Linda Morse, who would be teaching the other section of this course. Linda has both a tremendous amount of experience in teaching the entry-level geology classes, as well as in working with underclassmen, who are typically enrolled in these classes. In our first meetings to plan out the semester, I thought I was being somewhat daring in proposing that we should make online quizzes via Blackboard a significant part of (and modification to) how the class was taught, only to have Linda reply that she already had been working on doing the same thing. I could not have hoped, given the circumstances, to have had a better kick off to the semester.
And so it was that our students would be taking, on average, one to two short online quizzes per week. Linda suggested that it would be best to make our quizzes granular and correspond to specific chapter readings from the textbook. Linda and I instructed students to make sure to do the reading before taking the quizzes, but we also told them that they could use the textbook in case they needed to check on the covered material while taking the quiz. We also designed the timed quizzes to be simple enough to complete in less than 30 minutes, and to highlight portions of the textbook that we thought were important.
After using online quizzes for a few weeks already this semester, here are my five reasons why I think you should try it out.
1. Flipping the Classroom’s Low-Hanging Fruit
One of, if not the, main reason to use online quizzes is to make sure that students are prepared for lectures. In our case, and given the minimal amount of time I had to prepare for the course, this simply meant that students should ideally come to class having done the readings and having a good understanding of the materials covered in the chapter related to that day’s lecture. Having done so, they are much better prepared to take in additional information, ask more thoughtful questions, and have more interesting discussions during in-class activities.
2. Easier than Clickers
For me one of the biggest strengths of clickers (or classroom response systems) is that they allow for in-class “testing and scoring” to see if students understand presented concepts. The downside of clickers, and based on some pretty extensive experience, these systems can often be pretty “temperamental” in the classroom, many times creating frustrating situations for both students and faculty members. Proper use of clickers can also require some extensive adjustments, in real-time, to class discussion/lectures, if significant understanding “gaps” are discovered through the use of the clickers. The combination of online quizzes and Blackboard’s Grade Center reports gives us the possibility to see, before finalizing our lectures, where students may be confused by specific topics being covered, and gives us a chance to adjust accordingly (in the more forgiving outside of class-time environment).
3. Students Do a Lot for a Few Points
Most of our students want to excel, and need little incentive to do so. The total amount of points designated to each quiz does not need to be significant to motivate students to being well prepared for class. Given that each quiz’s overall value is small, means that there is also very little reason for students to “venture outside” of the College’s honor code. As far as I can see this creates a win-win situation for everyone involved.
4. Instant Gratification
We set up the quizzes to be instantly graded upon submission, and for the correct answers to be given as feedback to students. Ideally, this should improve the chances that misconceptions are cleared up immediately, and that students have a chance to go back and re-read sections for which they did not score well. Given our setup, we really have no way of knowing if this is the case or not. However, my guess is that scoring well on these quizzes (the majority of students do) provides a positive and fast reinforcement of good study habits.
5. Self-Scoring – Need I Say More
With 100 students per section and approximately 20 quizzes over the course of the semester, it would be a nearly impossible task to score these quizzes manually and still be able to take advantage of the above benefits. Fortunately, we have the option to have the quizzes completely automatically graded (…yes, option accepted). This is not as constraining as you may think. There are the “usual” question types such as true/false, multiple choice, matching, and ordering, among many others, but also some that you may not be familiar with, such as “hotspot” (graphical designation), “calculated numeric,” or fill in the blank (with “pattern matching”). Of course self-scored questions can also be mixed in with manually graded questions, such as “essay” or “short answer.”
If you’re interested in using Blackboard’s online quizzes feature (or learning how to use any other Blackboard feature), check out W&M’s Blackboard tutorials page or the Blackboard posts on this blog.