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Using Blackboard for Assessment

In many ways, the questions that you need to ask yourself about on-line assessment are no different than those you ask about more traditional forms. Perhaps the only differences are that, with the on-line assessment tools provided with Blackboard, these questions become more conscious and some of them have to be faced before the assessment is taken rather than afterwards. I’ll explain what I mean by that as I go through the sorts of questions I have asked myself when compiling a Blackboard test/quiz.

Why do I want to assess my student ? Why now?

To gain some measure of the progress they have made in their knowledge and understanding of the subject matter covered. As for the timing, well I usually test at the end of a discrete topic, and then again at the end of a unit which is comprised of a number of topics. In other words, I provide my students with formative assessment. It is important to remember, however, that the teacher is not the sole stakeholder in formative assessment. It benefits the student, in terms of providing feedback and helping them to plan any remedial work that needs to be undertaken. It can also be used to inform parents of their offspring's progress where appropriate, and it can also help inform managers decisions about whether or not a student is progressing sufficiently to remain on a course of study.

How do I assess my student?

Do I use on-line or more traditional methods of assessment? For me, given the somewhat limited nature of the assessment tools in Blackboard I have tended to use the former for testing knowledge and the latter for deeper learning and understanding. Given that the summative assessments my students take all involve written examinations and coursework, I have found that this approach works best.

Which question type?

Multiple choice or fill in the blank? Multiple answers or matching? Ordering or true/false? The answer to this is: it depends on what you are asking the question about. Asking questions about definitions of terminology, for example, is well-suited to both multiple choice and matching. With the former, you provide either the term or the definition in the question, and the student has to choose from a choice of possible answers. With the latter, you provide a number of terms and definitions and the student has to match them up. Questions about relationships can be successfully tackled using ordering for example, students could be given all the factors in an equation in a random order, and they then have to put them in the correct order. All that these examples are meant to convey, is that you need to think carefully about what you want the questions to assess, rather than just ploughing straight in and using any type of question just for the sake of variety or because you prefer one type to another.

Which additional features?

Do I include images, video clips or sound in the questions? Using sound clips would be an excellent way of assessing listening skills in foreign languages or in music for example, but may be of less use in other subject areas… although if you are the imaginative type, it may be possible to use these features in very innovative and interesting ways.

What about feedback?

Without appropriate feedback, formative assessment is not particularly valid.
In Blackboard you can decide to have no feedback at all but given that the main purpose of formative assessment is to help guide the student’s learning, simply providing them with the outcome of on assessment does not achieve this. Therefore directed, detailed feedback should be given whenever possible. Some questions to consider:-

• Do you provide feedback after each question or at the end of the assessment?

• Is the feedback specific and directed (probably best after every question) or general (probably best given at the end)

• How much feedback - one or two words/sentences, or detailed explanations of wrong answers and praise coupled with further directed study for correct ones.

Some practical considerations:

Because of how ‘post-test information’ options are currently presented in Blackboard, unless all your students take the assessment simultaneously under exam conditions, to give them access to the feedback you have carefully inputted, you also have to reveal the correct answers. Now, students are ingenious when it comes to finding shortcuts to hard work. One of these is for one student to take the test, submit their answers, review their test and, thereby, gain access to the feedback and the correct answers. A group of friends then simply take turns to be the first to do a test, and share the correct answers with the rest of the group when they are revealed, who then go on to score very highly! If you do not mind this cheating, then there is no problem, but you then have to discount any contributions that students’ performances on these tests have towards any judgements you make about their progress.

If you do want the Blackboard test results to be valid, one way around this, is for only the score to be released to the student when they take the test and then, when everyone has completed it, and you have exported the scores to an excel spreadsheet or your off-line gradebook, to allow them to take the test again, this time with feedback and revealing of correct answers enabled.

Any comments, observations or questions about this article should be submitted via the feedback facility on the home page of Bb Matters.

Author: Merv Stapleton

22 February 2004

VLE: Blackboard



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