Who writes “better” exam questions? In an earlier blog post, I talked about student generated exam questions. Shriram Krishnamurthi, a professor of computer science at Brown University, said the approach is an example of what he called “Contributed Student Pedagogy.” Let’s add Benjamin Wiles, the chief data officer at Clemson University, to the conversation. Are you familiar with “Self-Determination Theory?” According to the website verywellmind, “In psychology, self-determination is an important concept that refers to each person’s ability to make choices and manage their own life. Self-determination allows people to feel that they have control over their choices and lives. It also has an impact on motivation—people feel more motivated to take action when they feel that what they do will have an effect on the outcome.” Will student generated exam questions foster engagement? Will greater student learning take place?
Wiles has made use of it in some of his math courses, and he knows that some students may be a bit hesitant at first, but believes that this is an excellent way to build community and engagement from the very first day of the term. In fact, he asks students to help write the syllabus with him.
In a study at the University of Michigan a few years ago, published in 2015 in the Journal of Dental Education, the rigor of exam questions generated by students was compared to the questions generated by instructors. The students were members of a first-year dentistry course. Here’s where it gets interesting…three experts did a blind study of exam questions, using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a scale, and discovered that almost half of students’ questions assessed high-level cognitive skills, and 16 percent of the instructors’ questions did. That gave me pause!
The study also interviewed students about this exercise (not the instructors, though!) More than three-quarters of the students found this exercise helpful in making connections between the dentistry course and other courses they were taking! “This exercise forced me to evaluate questions and review why they were right and wrong,” one student wrote.
Wouldn’t this be an interesting exercise for you to do in one of your classes this fall? Remember that students don’t automatically write great questions. Like the students in Wiles’ classes, it may take some coaxing and coaching, and an introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy, but the outcomes will help students make more and better connections both in your class and other courses.