Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Quizzes and Concept Tests in Remote/Hybrid Environments

Quizzes and concept tests present a wide range of opportunities for instructors who wish to incorporate timed low stakes assessment on a recurring basis. As with untimed assignments, this approach provides students with more frequent opportunities for feedback and grading over the course of the semester while offering instructors meaningful data points pertaining to student learning and overall progress.

Recent research conducted in learning science labs as well as in real classes has shown that, under a variety of circumstances, students learn more from taking a quiz than from studying (Agarwal et al., 2007; Roediger & Karpicke, 2006). In other words, testing students is as much a learning activity as it is an assessment. The explanation for this phenomenon, called the “testing effect,” involves the idea that students are activating their memory as they work on the quiz questions, and this process serves to strengthen connections in memory. 

To answer the common question about “are we overloading our students by adding more things for them to do per week/all of their classes are doing this” - as long as course instructors stick to the unit load, then it is a fair amount of work. All assessment types should be factored into this calculation.

  • To help students structure their time, It is important to frame what a typical week will look like in terms of the tasks they will need to complete. 
  • Instructors can also mention that there won’t be as big of a push during midterms/finals, but that it will be a more consistent amount of weekly work AND that their grade won’t depend so heavily on the high-stakes assessments.
  • Consider options that would allow for flexibility in the event of technology failures such allowing students to drop the lowest score.

In order to help students check their own understanding of the course material following a lecture, instructors can create brief multiple-choice quizzes (3-5 questions) in Canvas. With this format, quizzes may be autograded in Canvas. They are designed to measure student understanding of the material covered in the lecture and help the course instructor identify areas in need of review or further clarification.

  • This strategy can also be employed before lecture to measure understanding of the assigned readings, or during class as a form of attendance and practice (though such quizzes might be limited to one or two questions so they take less time). Instructors should consider which option best helps accomplish the goal they are trying to achieve. 
  • Make sure to provide explanatory feedback for the correct responses as well as critical narrative for the incorrect responses: this improves students’ self-reported understanding of material (Sullivan, 2016).
  • This approach enhances knowledge retention by providing multiple opportunities for students to retrieve information (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006).
  • Allow students to take Canvas quizzes with a fixed time allotment and flexible start windows to ensure that all students, regardless of time zone, can benefit from the participation and practice. Alternatively, create a different version of the quiz for students in other time zones.

For instructors who wish to employ low stakes assessments on a regular basis, it is helpful to strategize around the best way to administer those assessments in a timely manner that is accessible to students. Technology can help to streamline these processes (e.g., via Canvas quizzes or by using Gradescope for grading). That said, it is beneficial to both practice in advance and have an alternative to offer students in the event that the technology fails. One possible approach for ensuring academic integrity pairs the use of smartphones for quiz deployment with Zoom video to monitor students’ hands and quiz papers during the class meeting.

Agarwal, P. K., Karpicke, J. D., Kang, S. H., Roediger III, H. L., & McDermott, K. B. (2008). Examining the testing effect with open‐and closed‐book tests. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22(7), 861-876.

Roediger III, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science17(3), 249-255.

Sullivan, D. P. (2016). An integrated approach to preempt cheating on asynchronous, objective, online assessments in graduate business classes. Online Learning20(3), 195-209.