As the term unfolds, many professors will be asking students to work productively in groups. While there’s lots of evidence to support collaborative learning, both in terms of knowledge gained and essential work skills honed, many professors are also faced with groups that don’t gel or fall under the dominion of one hyper-achiever, and the occasional student who is willing to ride on colleagues’ coattails. Then there’s the question of group versus individual accountability.
Nikki Schulz, engineering (pictured), and Ross Hanig, business, suggest checking out the teacher-designed web site CATME.org, which offers many suggestions for overcoming obstacles that can keep learning groups from functioning optimally. The site provides quick inventories that allow professors to form groups which are more likely to be productive, tips from the trenches for managing the noise and extra movement groups generate, keeping track of individual contributions, working through personality conflicts, and getting students to make equitable contributions to their final course projects. Like any tool, it can’t answer every possible problem, but it is field-tested and a good place to start if you find yourself up against the same issues and complaints regarding group work. And as with most TLC tips, pursuing CATME.org for the length of time it takes you to drink a cup of coffee at your desk may pay some excellent dividends.
For more information contact Karen Eifler at email@example.com.
Moving assessments online has many potential benefits. For one, you can free up class time for more group or active learning activities. Out of class, LMS-based quizzing eliminates the chore of manually grading objective multiple choice, true or false, or match questions. (This last one alone is enough to pique the interest of many instructors.)
Some faculty, however, are concerned that, by allowing students to take quizzes on their own time, they are encouraging students to cheat. This is a valid concern; an online quiz is a de facto open-book, open-note test. But is that always a bad thing?
In this article, I want to discuss some strategies to help tailor your assessment methods to the online space, deter cheating, encourage the development of critical thinking skills, and get the most out of the technology tools available to you.
Strategies: Moodle settings
Let’s take a closer look at some of the settings you can tweak in Moodle to discourage cheating. Many of these are the default settings for new Quiz activities.
Set a time limit
Enforcing a time limit on a quiz is one of the easiest steps you can take. With time as a factor, students should not be able to scour their textbook or pages of Google results to find an answer for every question. On the other hand, well-prepared students may have ample time to finish without using notes. They also could be in a great position to refer back to the material to reinforce concepts and be confident in their understanding before they even get the quiz results back.
To set a time limit, head to the Moodle Quiz activity. Check the box next to Time Limit, and choose your preferred amount of time.
Use a question bank
Set up a question bank containing many more questions than you actually want to include in the quiz. Then, have the Quiz activity draw random questions for each quiz attempt. This will make it very unlikely that two students will be able to share answers. In addition to writing your own questions, textbook publishers will often be able to supply large question sets that can be imported directly into Moodle.
You can get very specific in the question bank by creating categories to draw from. For example, I may have a category titled “Chapter: 1 Questions” with subcategories of “easy,” “moderate,” and “difficult.” Once my question bank is full, I can easily set up a quiz that draws a few question for each quiz attempt from each of these subcategories to make sure each student has a unique, but balanced, quiz.
One question per page
If you set a quiz to show many questions per page, students have been known to take screenshots and share the questions (though not necessarily with the correct answers). While it’s still possible for students to screenshot each individual question page, it’s much more cumbersome, especially when the quiz has a time limit in effect. Showing one question per page is the default setting for Moodle quizzes.
Restrict review options
You can set Moodle to hide the quiz review summary until after the quiz is closed. This would keep students from reviewing questions, answers, and feedback during the quiz period. You can still allow students to view their quiz score without allowing a full review. See the Review options settings in your Moodle quiz activity to configure your preferred settings.
Embrace the open-book format
In addition to using the Moodle settings discussed above to limit cheating, you may want to consider designing your overall assessment with an open-book format in mind.
Don’t be afraid to make questions harder
Since students have notes and their book to use, you should feel free to challenge them to demonstrate a higher level of mastery of the material. Use distractor answers and questions that require critical thinking or analysis to answer. You can even refer directly to course material (e.g., a sample problem or dataset from the course textbook). You can test for sound and thorough comprehension instead of memorization or recall.
If two or more students are working on a quiz with randomized answers, they will be unable to simply split the test up or copy from another. However, they will have the opportunity to engage with each other on the material, talk through problems, and collaboratively problem-solve.
Students are going to use any resource they can. You know they are. And they know that you know, too. But by clearing the air and consistently communicating your philosophies and expectations — “yes, this is an open-book test, and yes, it will be very difficult if you don’t study” — you are setting your students up for success and making it less likely they will rely solely on attempting to look up answers during the quiz itself.
Moving assessments online may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly a topic worth exploring (If only to avoid ever having to use a Scantron sheet again).
Academic Technology Services is here to support you as you explore integrating technology into your curriculum. For an overview of creating question banks, configuring quiz activities, and understanding report statistics with Moodle quizzes, see my new eight-part video walkthrough for setting up Moodle quizzes, or sign up for the
ATS Moodle quiz workshop in the Clark Library Digital Lab on Oct. 4, 2016.
Much credit goes to the following articles for information and inspiration for this piece:
These two-dozen thoughts from various scholars, writers, and thinkers have us ponder the situation and purpose of teaching. As the quotations jostle, complement, and contradict each other, their philosophies may provoke us to think through and articulate our own classroom ideals. [Read more…] about Thinking Through Teaching Quotations
Dear fellow teacher,
Here’s a quartet of poems to enjoy with your coffee,
during this five-minute break in your day.
Lars Erik Larson, UP English”
Can poetry teach us to become better teachers?
In a word, no.
But in its ability to remind us what it is to be human, poetry places us back on the foundation all good teaching comes from.
With sensory concreteness, these poems use humor, empathy, passion, and confusion to remind us to be ourselves as we teach our students to locate their own best selves.
First up: among poetry’s strategies, a poem might choose sarcasm, as prompted by this poem’s title, a familiar question we hear:
“Did I Miss Anything?”
by Tom Wayman
Nothing. When we realized you weren't here we sat with our hands folded on our desks in silence, for the full two hours
Everything, I gave an exam worth 40 percent of the grade for this term and assigned some reading due today on which I'm about to hand out a quiz worth 50 percent
Nothing. None of the content of this course has value or meaning Take as many days off as you like: any activities we undertake as a class I assure you will not matter either to you or me and are without purpose
Everything. A few minutes after we began last time a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel or other heavenly being appeared and revealed to us what each woman or man must do to attain divine wisdom in this life and the hereafter This is the last time the class will meet before we disperse to bring the good news to all people on earth
Nothing. When you are not present how could something significant occur?
Everything. Contained in this classroom is a microcosm of human experience assembled for you to query and examine and ponder This is not the only place such an opportunity has been gathered
but it was one place
And you weren't here
Sarcasm helps us blow off steam, and in the case of this poem, the humor is directed at the student’s cluelessly broad question.
But there are more constructive strategies than sarcasm for thinking through our pedagogy. Poems might take the opposite tack, deploying earnest empathy at the impossible challenge of our classroom work:
“Lit Instructor” by William Stafford
Day after day up there beating my wings with all the softness truth requires I feel them shrug whenever I pause: they class my voice among tentative things,
And they credit fact, force, battering. I dance my way toward the family of knowing, embracing stray error as a long-lost boy and bringing him home with my fluttering.
Every quick feather asserts a just claim; it bites like a saw into white pine. I communicate right; but explain to the dean-- well, Right has a long and intricate name.
And the saying of it is a lonely thing.
Stafford’s poem gives us concrete images and gestures for visualizing our fragile classroom challenge – namely, getting across the complexity of what we’re teaching.
But is this all too self-pitying? Another strategy is to re-connect with what got us into the ed. biz. in the first place: our own simple passion in our subject:
“To be of Use” by Marge Piercy
The people I love the best jump into work head first without dallying in the shallows and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. They seem to become natives of that element, the black sleek heads of seals bouncing like half-submerged balls. I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done, again and again. I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags along, who are not parlor generals and field deserters but move in a common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out. The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. Greek amphoras for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums but you know they were made to be used. The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real.
In place of sarcasm or self-pity, Piercy redirects us toward simple passion (and fills our head with the everyday objects and actions that can serve as reminders). When our teaching is driven by this engine, we serve as models for student engagement, rather than enforcers. And then there is teacherly humility; this last poem uses comically surreal juxtapositions to get at the “confusion of the world” – a confusion that bedevils not only students but ourselves as well, across a lifetime:
“To David, About His Education” by Howard Nemerov
The world is full of mostly invisible things, And there is no way but putting the mind’s eye, Or its nose, in a book, to find them out, Things like the square root of Everest Or how many times Byron goes into Texas, Or whether the law of the excluded middle Applies west of the Rockies. For these And the like reasons, you have to go to school And study books and listen to what you are told, And sometimes try to remember. Though I don’t know What you will do with the mean annual rainfall On Plato’s Republic, or the calorie content Of the Diet of Worms, such things are said to be Good for you, and you will have to learn them In order to become one of the grown-ups Who sees invisible things neither steadily nor whole, But keeps gravely the grand confusion of the world Under his hat, which is where it belongs, And teaches small children to do this in their turn.
With its jumbled reminder of all the disciplines we encountered in school but failed to pursue or remember (even as we excelled in our own disciplinary silo), we’re reminded of the vastness of what we don’t know. Nemerov’s poem leaves us with more questions than answers.
But then again: in that teaching course we took from Professor Socrates way back when, wasn’t that precisely our Learning Outcome?