Quizzing in an online writing class
It's not that I'm a mean teacher. In fact, I think quizzing is one of the most effective ways to help my students succeed in reading-based courses. I described my philosophy in an article I once wrote for The Teaching Professor, "Quizzes Boost Comprehension, Confidence" (1). My initial title also included the words "conversation and community." I saw the humble start-of-class reading quiz as an effective pedagogical tool to start class with energy and a positive vibe and to help students read the material--and to feel good about their understanding of it. It's important that I add this: My reading quizzes are ridiculously easy.
As I've said, I think teaching online is not so much wandering into a completely new pedagogical territory as it is thinking hard about how to convert your teaching strengths from one environment to another. When I started teaching and had to list out some of my teaching strategies, the list included quizzing. While the reasons may be slightly different, it still made sense to quiz in the online environment.
First off, whether online or in a f2f course, I still quiz to encourage students to read; they want to do well on these simple quizzes of mine. While Michael Marcell focuses on the use of online quizzing for f2f classes, his finding that quizzes led students to ask better reading-related questions in class is quite relevant for us OWTs. He also found that students were more likely to complete the readings and that students "reported that regular quizzing provided a structure for studying that encouraged them to pace their reading and to work harder to understand the material" (2). And the five-minute time limit means that it's very unlikely students could succeed on a quiz going into it cold. They just don't have enough time to browse through the readings while taking the quiz.
As Marcell mentions, I also still use quizzing to establish a sense of pacing. In f2f classes, I start the classes with a quiz so students are on time and the class opening has a familiar feel: Class starts... now! The situation is different online, but pacing is even more important. As I mentioned in my post "Pacing and predictability," I think an OWT must create a sense of "rhythm" in the class: Students, in this virtual environment, can learn to expect X to open on Wednesdays, etc. Quizzes are a great tool for this. On the same day, I open my quizzes from 9:30 am to a little after midnight (I found that a 12:00 am deadline gets you into nothing but trouble--too much room for error in describing on what day midnight falls).
In the online environment, I still want the quizzes to be easy so students feel good about what they're doing. This is the kind of question I ask: What happens to Romeo at the end of Romeo and Juliet? There's little in the way of analysis here: I just want them to read. If they say something about Romeo's triumphant lap around Verona, then I know they haven't read the whole work.
Now, teachers may wonder how to administer a quiz online. My quizzes, again, are easy, so I simply give them five minutes to complete them; in most cases, it would be harder and more time-consuming to cheat on the quiz than just to take the darn thing. If you're worried about students taking the quiz together, you can complicate things by using a simple feature of most course management systems: create a few more questions and have the software randomize them.
Finally, the online quiz and the f2f quiz share another key feature of my quizzing strategy: low stakes. Students can drop a quiz or two. I'm not trying to corner my students and frustrate them (with one possible outcome being that they cheat, which means we all lose). Instead, I'm trying to give them a constructive, easy, rewarding method to demonstrate their learning. Soon enough, we'll build on that learning in the higher-stakes assignments in the course.
1) In the March 2004 issue on page 5.
2) From the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning