Spring08: Friday, second week - thoughts about quizzes

Well, here it is, already Friday of the second week of the semester. I feel a bit zonked, but I think perhaps that is because I am coming down with a cold - it is more than just the usual online course end-of-week-zonkiness! Anyway, I want to stick to my plan of reflecting on how things went in general this week, and what improvements I can make next semester.

Probably the biggest thing I noticed was people either stressing too much about the quizzes (taking the quizzes over and over again trying to get 100%, which is really not important) and people not taking the quizzes seriously enough (I am trouble if people go on to do the writing assignments based on the week's readings if they didn't really do a good job with the readings - the quizzes are not hard, so getting a very low score is a very bad sign).

So, instead of waiting until next semester, I've made a change already this semester which I hope will help. I went through the webpages for all three of my classes, and for every single page that had a quiz on it, I added this "Study Tip" - now, instead of just seeing this Tip pop up randomly in Desire2Learn, they will see it every single time they prepare for a quiz (sample quiz page). Here is what it says:

Apply the 80% RULE when you are taking quizzes for these classes. In other words: don't stress about trying to get 100% on these quizzes. The quizzes are here to make sure you are ready to go on to the next activity. If you get 80% or better, you are ready to proceed. If you get less than 80% you need to go back and do the reading again (read more slowly, take notes) and take the quiz again, aiming for at least 80%.

Although it took a little while to update the webpages this morning, I think it will provide benefits all during the semester, and will make next semester get off to a much better start as well.

I am also pondering if I need to do something more serious about the people who do very poorly on the quizzes. Right now, the quizzes count for what is, realistically, a very tiny percentage of anyone's grade. That is because I really dislike tests, and I don't believe in grading based on tests.

At the same time, I know that students are for the most part insanely grade-oriented (it is an insanity we have inculcated in them through years of schooling, of course, so it is often a deep-seated insanity!). As a result, when they realize that doing poorly on these quizzes does not hurt their grade, they may think that this authorizes them to be sloppy about the reading. As it happens, the students who probably most need the feedback provided by the quiz are precisely the ones more likely to calculatedly ignore that feedback.

By not weighting the quizzes heavily in the final grade, I do not mean to imply the quizzes are not important. That is not it at all! Instead, what I am trying to do is give them some way of getting feedback about how carefully they read. Sometimes people read sloppily, and do not even realize that, and I want the quiz to be a mechanism so that they get a signal to go back and do the reading again if they were sloppy (hasty, distracted, etc.) the first time around.

So, I definitely need to think about this. I don't want to glorify the quizzes by giving them more attention than they deserve, but at the same time I really do want them to carry out this function of prodding people to re-read if they have done a poor job of reading the first time around. Maybe some of the "Conditions" that can be set in Desire2Learn would help me find a way to manage this, although the fact that the students get to choose their reading topic each week (something that Desire2Learn simply does not understand at all) might make that tricky...

Anyway, no changing of the horse mid-semester, so I will put further pondering of quizzes on the list of things to think about this summer. For now, I am happy that I have added the Study Tip to every single quiz page at the course. :-)

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