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Finals week

10 Dec

It’s finals week at my university and I am busy grading papers and giving exams. Several years ago I switched to using the Immediate Feedback Technique for exams.

Here is a video that explains the system:


Harnessing the testing effect

23 Nov

The testing effect occurs when we are asked to recover information shortly after being exposed it. It turns out that if you are tested on information at appropriate intervals your long term retention is enhanced. This is why I give my students short quizzes at every class session. This helps them to remember the material, provides useful feedback, and is an incentive for them to space studying out over the semester, instead of cramming at the end.

A recent study,  “Daily Online Testing in Large Classes: Boosting College Performance while Reducing Achievement Gaps,” published in the PLOS-ONE provides evidence that the testing effect can be used to benefit students. Here is the abstract:

“An in-class computer-based system, that included daily online testing, was introduced to two large university classes. We examined subsequent improvements in academic performance and reductions in the achievement gaps between lower- and upper-middle class students in academic performance. Students (N = 901) brought laptop computers to classes and took daily quizzes that provided immediate and personalized feedback. Student performance was compared with the same data for traditional classes taught previously by the same instructors (N = 935). Exam performance was approximately half a letter grade above previous semesters, based on comparisons of identical questions asked from earlier years. Students in the experimental classes performed better in other classes, both in the semester they took the course and in subsequent semester classes. The new system resulted in a 50% reduction in the achievement gap as measured by grades among students of different social classes. These findings suggest that frequent consequential quizzing should be used routinely in large lecture courses to improve performance in class and in other concurrent and subsequent courses.”

Using the testing effect, in conjunction with spaced repetition, offers our best hope for increasing the effectiveness of education. Yet these techniques are little know and rarely used.  Part of the problem stems from the misuse of testing by the dominant education reform regime. Many of the high stakes tests that are used in education today are scaled to the time frames of policy makes and not to the needs of children and teachers. They do not provide feedback helpful to students or their instructors. And some assessments, such as valid added measures of teaching, are flat out invalid.

There is an alternative, we can reject the perverse incentives created by high stakes testing and embrace teaching techniques that employ the testing effect to improve dramatically the effectiveness of instruction.

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