I caught my finger in the car door

Post by John Benwell

picture by jockwav on photobucket

I did, and it hurt lots, but I have never done it again. A quick survey around the office found out that most people have jammed their finger in the car door, interestingly, also only once.

No need to cite references here. The message is clear. We learn from our mistakes.

As part of the learning experience, we need to give students problems which allow them to develop and test their understanding and knowledge. Predictably, they will make mistakes. In the case of the car door, I received instant and memorable feedback – pain. In the case of an exam at the end of semester, there is no feedback to students, just a grade. It is an old way of assessing, and an ineffective way of assessing. We allow students to get half of what we decide to test wrong, often with no understanding of why, and we will call it a pass!

A semester of learning that culminates in an exam as the only large form of assessment with no subsequent feedback does not support good learning. It usually promotes rote learning (or cramming) which is of little value for students learning approaches. It doesn’t provide students with opportunities to display what they have learnt and what they understand with relation to the course.

As students progress through the semester, we should continually and progressively assess them. For instance, we can give them real life projects that allow them to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the subject material, followed up with tests that importantly provide good feedback. Then they can learn from their mistakes.

Students not only have differing learning styles, but also have different ways of expressing what they have learnt. They need to be given options that allow them to best demonstrate what they know. Not everyone is good at sitting exams, and worse still, not all teachers are good at writing them!

Reviewing how you assess your students may not only increase their satisfaction and experience in your course, but it is likely that they will learn more because they enjoy the process.

Firstly, do you really need one big assessment at the end of semester? Would it be better to teach in segments, and assess each segment as you proceed through the semester? It is possible to take an incremental approach to learning and progressively build students’ knowledge and depth of understanding, and increase the complexity of projects, essays, etc. as time goes on. With continuous assessment using multiple assessment methods, you can provide timely formative feedback from a range of perspectives about their mistakes that will better support their learning. They may even take the assessment again, to make sure they have filled the gaps in their understanding.

Nice, but how can I easily do this?

A Learning Management System (LMS) like Blackboard can help. You can create quizzes or tests in Blackboard which automatically give feedback on correct and incorrect answers. You can monitor your students’ progress in Blackboard’s grade centre as the tests are automatically marked.

Amongst other features, you can create question pools. Blackboard will give students random questions from the pool so each student will get a different set of questions. Questions can take a range of formats including formulas, essays, fill in the blanks, hot spot graphics, multiple choice short answers, true/false. What’s more, the students can do the quiz or test whenever it suits them.

To get going, log into Blackboard, and in any folder click on “Create Assessment” and select “Test”. (If test is not there, check “Tool Availably” option under Customisation). Then choose “Create”.

Give your test a name, description and supply instructions to the students, and hit “Submit”. Now create some questions. Developing good questions is another whole topic. Look back at your course’s learning outcomes and frame the questions to test your students understanding of them. Careful you don’t just test facts, make sure your students have to think about and consider their responses. With each question, complete the feedback boxes for both correct and incorrect answers that will help the students understand their mistakes, or reward them for a correct answer. Remember this test is not only for assessment, but is also a learning exercise.

As each student completes the test, you can check on their progress in the grade centre. Have they done it yet? How well did they do? You can even let them do the test again. You might find from the results of the test that you need to review or modify your lesson plans to emphasise a point that they have not understood.

Blackboard has many options to help you create and assess your students, as well as how to monitor their progress. Understanding how to do this is easy with the Blackboard “On Demand” short videos which are available online and focus on key activities involved in setting everything up. Here are a few to get you going with tests and quizzes.

Creating a test http://ondemand.blackboard.com/r91/movies/bb91_tests_surveys_creating_test.htm

Creating Short Answer Questions http://ondemand.blackboard.com/r91/movies/bb91_tests_survey_create_short_answer_question.htm

Creating Multiple Choice Questions http://ondemand.blackboard.com/r91/movies/bb91_tests_surveys_create_multiple_choice_question.htm

Building a Question Pool http://ondemand.blackboard.com/r91/movies/bb91_tests_surveys_building_a_pool.htm

These short instructional videos will help you create tests and learn how it works. The blackboard on demand site has many short videos to show you how to set thing up everything. The videos at the link below will help you set up assessment tasks to help your students learn.

Help on Assessing Learners http://ondemand.blackboard.com/assess.htm#TestsSurveysandPools

My finger got better, but I will always remember the feedback. Assess your students often, and provide each student with timely and formative feedback, then your assessment activities can become valuable learning activities as well. That’s got to better than one final exam.