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More on Student Generated Exam Questions

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.

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Contributed Student Pedagogy

It’s the end of the quarter. We’re getting ready for final exams. Many of you have spent a great deal of time thinking about and writing questions and problems for that exam, knowing that this is an opportunity to bring together everything your class covered in the past 10 weeks.

Shriram Krishnamurthi, a professor of computer science at Brown University asks students to contribute possible exam questions. He says that this is an example of what he calls “Contributed Student Pedagogy.” This technique is not to make his life easier. Instead, he uses these questions to develop concept inventories.

According to Exploring How Students Learn, “A concept inventory is a test to assess students’ conceptual understanding in a subject area.” Krishnamurthi says, “This is a very lightweight, cheap way of generating and evolving fairly good inventories.”

Krisnamurthi and Brown University colleagues Sam Saarinen, Kathi Fisler, and Preston Tunnell Wilson wrote more about this in their paper Harnessing the Wisdom of the Classes. They have also provided supplemental materials that we encourage you to check out.

By now we might have piqued your interest in concept inventories. Here’s a podcast from Michelle Smith, an Associate Professor in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine. In this podcast from Teach Better, Professor Smith gives advice for finding, creating and/or giving them.

What’s another approach to a successful end-of quarter exam? In another article from Teach Better, the author Doug McKee writes that they tried something new for an online class – a collaborative exam. “I strongly encouraged individuals to complete the exam on their own first and then meet to discuss their solutions—If you think this sounds an awful lot like a two-stage exam, you’re right! After the fact, many students told me they learned a lot during the exam through this collaboration process.”

How successful was this experiment? Well, pretty successful if you measure by student scores. But McKee realizes that there might have been students who simply copied other students’ work. He writes, “I’m seriously considering a hybrid approach where I first ask them to take a short (say 10 question / 30 minute) randomly generated multiple choice exam on their own. Then they take a collaborative exam like the one I gave as a midterm. It would be much less work than a full-on multiple choice set up, but it would still let me identify those students who have no idea what’s going on and free-rode on the midterm. The collaborative piece would let me ask tougher questions and keep all the learning that happens during the exam. Their score would be a weighted average of what they get on the two parts.”

These are just some thoughts on generating exams and exam questions, whether in an online class or not, and if you have other ideas you’d like to contribute please leave your comments!

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