Online quizzes for lit classes

A couple of years ago, I began requiring online reading quizzes in my 200-level lit classes (Brit Lit II, plus topics-based courses for nonmajors).  This year, I’ve extended it to any class where there’s assigned reading.  As usual, there are some gains and losses.

Here’s a sample question:

According to Keats, a poet is:

  1. A man speaking to men
  2. A chai-drinking beret-wearer
  3. An unacknowledged legislator of the world
  4. The most unpoetical thing in existence
  5.  An eolian harp

People who’ve read their Keats letters recently will recognize the answer as #4, though 1, 3, and 5 are definitions offered by other romantic poets we’d read earlier in the semester.

15/51 students who took this quiz (out of 59 enrolled), or ~29%, missed it.   Of these, 10 picked Wordsworth’s “a man speaking to men,” and 5 chose “an unacknowledged legislator of the world.”  The rest got it right, which isn’t surprising because the question uses verbatim language from the assigned reading.

Here are the gains:

  • When there’s a quiz, more students do at least some of the reading, or at least it seems that way based on class discussion.
  • The frequency of the quizzes reinforces my general shift toward assignments that are more frequent, but with lower stakes.
  • The course management system does the grading automagically, so no grading for me!  (Because, like all sane people, I hate the current version of Blackboard/Vista, I use Moodle to do this.)

Here are the losses:

  • Wow, is writing quiz questions a pain in the ass!
  • Course management systems excel at grading defined-answer questions, such as multiple choice; I would have to review or manually grade any other kind of answer.  So all the questions are multiple-choice.
  • Not that this ever happens, but if I get behind, then I have to figure out a way to account for that in a fair way.  Usually what I do is assume that I gave a quiz, and students all got the questions right.  (Because I don’t like to punish students for my own failings.)
  • The quizzes are supposed to be easy, to compensate for other assignments that are harder.  The idea is to offer a carrot for doing the reading.  Nevertheless, a lot of people will miss any given question.  This is depressing.
  • I tend to ask questions that don’t require much interpretation, because I started this in classes that weren’t necessarily for majors.

Apparently people in other disciplines have quiz questions that they can simply download from the publisher and plug into their course management system.  If a similar solution exists for a literature anthology, I’ve yet to see it.  (I use Broadview, and they offer multiple choice questions for students to review, but they’re in PDF format, and they give the answers.  Similarly, Norton offers a quiz students can actually take, but it’s pegged to a period as a whole, not individual authors.)

And there’s no bank of questions, at least not that I’m aware of, for all the myriad texts one might teach.  (E.g., all of Trollope, or Kathy Acker, or whatever.)

Someone who developed such a bank–or, that is, someone who coordinated such a bank of questions, able to be plugged in to Vista, Moodle, & Sakai–would be a hero.  It could just be a site where people upload questions from their various courses, and other faculty could download them and manipulate them as they see fit.

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