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The Quiz Was … Awesome


I couldn't believe it. This is what I heard last week from a student who completed an online quiz. As a course designer and online instructor I had to find out more. In my experience, students rarely get excited about completing a quiz and I'd never heard the word "awesome" used to describe one.

This student procrastinated, but emerged triumphant after finally taking the assessment. He's enrolled in the last course of an online arts program in which most of the assessment is performance-based. A typical course, for example, includes submitting audio files, as well as participating in discussions, chats, and online tests. Previous courses also had quizzes, but there was something different about this particular quiz.

So what made this quiz so special?

This is what I really wanted to know. How could I duplicate the experience for my online students? Here's what I found out:

  • It was required. Previous courses presented quizzes as a way to review course material and study for exams, but weren't graded in any way – voluntary with no credit for completion.
  • It was engaging. This student described previous course quizzes as "following a pattern in the reading." These were tests of finding the pattern and plugging in the answers. This was boring with little perceived value.
  • It focused the learner's efforts. The student "had to actually read, absorb, and 'get it' to do well." After completing the quiz, he realized he had achieved something – learned the material – and felt good about it.

While this student found that the quiz was more challenging, due to the level of complexity, it was also more helpful and pushed him to delve a little deeper into the required topics.

What makes a good online quiz? 

DePaul's Teaching Commons defines a quiz as "a low-stakes assessment that covers approximately a week's worth of material." With this in mind, quizzes are recommended as a useful way to both assess learning and motivate students. Take a closer look at several of the possible strategies presented:

  • To assess ability to apply concepts or skills – use a case study approach with a mix of question types (i.e., multiple choice, matching, short answer).
  • To identify difficult concepts and areas for additional practice – take time to review items missed by multiple students.
  • To reduce cheating and anxiety of larger exams – provide multiple smaller assessments throughout a course.
  • To encourage preparation for in-class discussion – require completion of quiz prior to the scheduled discussion.
  • To encourage completion of assigned reading – require completion of weekly quiz addressing comprehension.

Education researchers from the University of Alabama and Georgia College & State University published Online Assessment Strategies: A Primer, [PDF] in 2010. This document outlines the characteristics of exemplary learning assessments as: authentic, challenging, coherent, engaging, respectful, responsive, rigorous, and valid. Quizzes, and all other assessments, should be designed with these characteristics in mind, and serve to "guide the student to meet the intended outcomes."

Tips for Instructors

Online testing is just one method of assessing student learning in an online course. Your courses may already include multiple approaches such as discussion forums, projects, and papers, or even simulations, games, and virtual labs. What purpose do quizzes serve in your course? Moodle's list of effective quiz practices reminds us to first determine the learning objectives, then match appropriate assessment types to those objectives. Carnegie Mellon University and Penn State both provide guidelines and resources to help you with this kind of alignment.

Cheating is a concern in online testing, as in all forms of testing, and there are multiple techniques available to discourage students from engaging in these activities. The use of large question pools is a possibility, as well as randomization of questions and answer options. Timing strategies can also be implemented and more options are becoming available for remote proctoring.

If online quizzes and tests are appropriate for your course and objectives, conduct additional research to determine the best strategies for creating these instruments in your course site. You may have options both within your learning management system and through other applications, such as RespondusQuizStar, and Hot Potatoes. Check with your school's curriculum and faculty support teams for more information. In addition to assisting you with the process of adding a quiz to your course site, they can also advise you on the selection of assessment types and collection of data to help you improve how your quizzes measure student learning.

And don't forget to ask your students for feedback along the way. Ensure that your use of quizzes results in an awesome learning experience for your online students.

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May 17th, 2012 written by (learn more about our authors)

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