Experimenting with online tests to teach Anthropology


I’m in my 5th (!) year of teaching an introductory anthropology class and in the past I’ve looked at YouTube, Pinterest and a reading pack to support my teaching, but this year I’ve decided to overcome initial scepticism and look at using the test feature of Blackboard to help provide weekly feedback on my students’ progress.

In the past I’ve not been keen to do tests for at least a couple of reasons. Students haven’t really engaged with formative exercises previously so I was worried that it would be a waste of time, but more importantly the module is assessed mainly through extended written work, so that multiple choice questions (a small component of the final test) wouldn’t really match that.

My thinking changed over the summer, partly as a response to completing a well designed online test in a different context, and partly through conversations with members of our Learning Technologies Team. I started to realise that I could use appropriately worded multiple choice (including multimedia) and open ended questions to assess students’ deeper learning, and so this term I have started to include weekly online tests.

The initial response from students has been good, with about two thirds completing the quizzes so far, which I’m pretty happy with. The first week’s quiz included an open ended question that linked with group discussions in class (to try and make it as accessible as possible). Overall I was pleased with the responses to this question, and the feedback I gave was exactly the kinds of things I’d typically highlight with essay questions such as responding to the question, and being economical with language (not wasting words!) etc.

The question did ask for responses of approximately 100 words, and most students responded appropriately although answers ranged from 47 to 450 words! At this stage of the year I don’t think this is a big issue, but something for students to work on.

Future week’s quizzes will focus on providing formative feedback from their summative assignment (a mini-ethnography) and this will replace my usual practice of responding to emailed drafts. I am envisioning open questions asking for their methodology section for example (obviously more than 100 words!).

Overall I’ve actually found the experience of using our VLE (Blackboard) pretty good for setting up and administrating the quizzes. Some of the students have had issues accessing their feedback which is frustrating (as this is the point!).

I’m also experimenting with embedding short videos into the quizzes with questions relating to their content.

Embedded video in quiz

Embedded video in quiz

At the moment I’m seeing the value in the short answer responses, but over the course of the term I think I will carry on experimenting with different kinds of questions to see how I can best support students learning introductory anthropology.

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About digitalscholar

I am a sociologist with an interest in new technology. Previously I’ve worked on a number of projects at Lancaster University and the Open University looking at the use of new technologies and social media by researchers. I was also a social sciences teaching fellow at the foundation centre at Durham University teaching sociology and anthropology. I am now a senior lecturer at the University of West London's Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning where I oversee the foundation provision and support retention. I'm sure I'll still be interested in, and occasionally blog about, tech related things. I use this blog to post thoughts about using new technologies in my professional academic life and wider thoughts and links relating to technology more generally.
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