Informal Assessment Series #2 - Daily Quizzes

Students working in a lecture. This month's informal assessment technique - the quiz - has been part of most teachers' toolkits for many years. Part of the reason that quizzes are so commonplace is that they are an expected, and therefore comfortable, medium of assessment, for both students and instructors.

Another reason is that quizzes can be very flexible - several types are described here - incorporating many kinds of questions and even assessment types. Depending on the weight and character of a quiz, it can be either formative (providing feedback to students about their progress) or summative (evaluating students' knowledge).

One way that many instructors use quizzes is to motivate student engagement with specific material.

Tuckman (1996 - see below for citation), for example, an educational psychologist, compared the performance of three groups of college students taking the same class (one group who was quizzed each week, one group who defined key terms in their reading, and one control group) and found significant performance gains in the quiz group.

Here in the COE, John Booske, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has begun to use daily quizzes as a tool to help him restructure the teaching of his courses.

Instead of the more typical sequence of textbook readings, in-class lectures, and homework problems, Booske has instead begun assigning students the task of watching the lectures for ECE 420: Electromagnetic Wave Transmission online. Then, in class, he begins the "lecture" with a short quiz and moves on to team-based problem solving.

"If I lecture in class and assign homeworks and assign parts of the textbooks, I assume that many of them jump right into the homework instead of reading first... but because of these quizzes, they're motivated to complete a textbook-like investment of time when they watch the lectures. They're also conditioned to [watch the lectures] in a way where they don't just tune out because they can't do that and do well on the quizzes," Booske says.

Booske uses the questions on the daily quizzes to "reinforce or articulate things that I want them to remember" from the lectures. "I think that homework and these quizzes are learning tools... they have the chance of impressing certain points on students," he says.

After the quizzes, Booske is able to learn whether or not students are feeling confident about that day's content by examining their performance.

In addition, he reports, using course lecture time more flexibly for problem-solving gives students a unique opportunity:

"[During class] it's important to have a conversation about the content and how it builds on itself... but there's a complementary facet in learning how to do problem solving. Knowing the content, even very intimately, does not mean that you're going to be an efficient problem solver... I can offer recommended approaches to problem solving rather than letting them learn it through trial and error on their own [in homework problems]."

This technique seems to be useful for many students, too. While Booske notes that some of his ECE 420 students felt as if they devoted too much time to preparing for his course, he also observed that "[students'] performance on the homework and the exams was definitely better... putting in this extra effort [by watching the lectures] helped them to really know the material."

Additionally, this fall, when I asked the tutors and student teachers from the drop-in tutoring and SI programs to identify some examples of pedagogy that they saw as successful for their tutees, they singled out Booske's method for teaching ECE 420 as effective: "[Watching the lectures] helps students get prepared before they go to class... Quick quizzes make sure that students do prepare for the lecture, and students can get more out of lectures when they are prepared."

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For more information about the ideas in this article:

1) Tuckman, B. W. (Spring 1996). The relative effectiveness of incentive motivation and prescribed learning strategy in improving college students' course performance. The Journal of Experimental Education v. 64, p. 197-210. (This paper is available electronically through the UW Library system.)

Tuckman reports what he sees as the effectiveness of quizzes as a tool to motivate students to learn. He describes an experiment that compared the performance of three groups of college students taking the same class (one group who was quizzed each week, one group who defined key terms in their reading, and one control group) and quantitatively demonstrates significant performance gains in the quiz group.

2) The Multiple Choice Test page of the Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide (FLAG), from the The National Institute for Science Education's (NISE) College Level One (CL-1) Team.

This section of the Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide focuses on multiple choice tests, examining - despite the stigma often attached to this type of testing - several strategies for creating flexible assessments that can test different facets of student learning.