How tests help online learners stay on task

Joan Phaup Headshot Posted by Joan Phaup

Online courses offer a flexible and increasingly popular way for people to learn. But what about the many distractions that can cause a student’s mind to wander off the subject at hand?

According to a team of Harvard University researchers, administering short tests to students watching video lectures can decrease mind-wandering, increase note-taking and improve retention.

Interpolated memory tests reduce mind wandering and improve learning of online lectures, a paper by Harvard Postdoctoral Fellow Karl K. Szpunar, Research Assistant Novall Y. Khan and Psychology Professor  Daniel L. Schacter, was published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  (PNAS) in the U.S.

The team conducted two experiments in which they interspersed online lectures with memory tests and found that such tests can: help students pay more sustained attention to lecture content encourage task-relevant note-taking improve learning reduce students’ anxiety about final tests.

“Here we provide evidence that points toward a solution for the difficulty that students frequently report in sustaining attention to online lectures over extended periods,” the researchers say.


In this experiment a group of students watched a 21-minute lecture presented in four segments of about five minutes each. After each segment, students were asked to do some math problems. Some students were then tested on the material from the lecture, while others (the “not tested” group) did more math problems.

This research seems to indicate that including tests or quizzes could make online courses more successful. So yes! Use assessments to reinforce what people are learning in your own courses. Whatever types of information you are presenting online – whether it’s a lecture, an illustration or text, you can help students stay focused by embedding assessments right on the same page as your learning materials.

A previous post on this blog offers an example of how embedded quizzes are being used to engage learners. You can read more about the recently published research, including an interview with Szpunar and Schacter, in the Harvard Gazette. You can read the paper here.

Conference Close-up: Questionmark Live at Shenandoah University

Posted by Joan Phaup

Shenandoah University School of Pharmacy was among the first users of Questionmark Live. Terra Walker and two colleagues, Web Developer Cheri Lambert and Assistant Professor Jeremy Fox — now with a track record of using this new authoring tool for subject matter experts — will share their experience with it at the Questionmark Users Conference in March.Terra Walker

I had a quick word with Terra the other day, to find out a little about her work and the case study she will present together with Cheri and Jeremy:

Q: What’s your role at Shenandoah University?
A
: I am the Webmaster for the School of Pharmacy. In addition to the web site, I support the faculty with their technology needs. In terms of student support, we have our traditional students here on campus and we help them with their technology needs. We support a community of nontraditional, online learners as well. I’m also the Questionmark Perception administrator for the School of Pharmacy. I get involved in all sorts of things, from training faculty on Authoring Manager and Questionmark Live to helping faculty members put together assessments. I also make sure things go smoothly when it’s time to administer assessments to the students.

Q: How is the school using Questionmark Perception?
A: We use it for our quizzes and exams — any assessments we want to do with traditional or nontraditional students. That could include anything from Pharmacogenomics to infectious diseases to patient assessment, all centered around pharmacy. Traditionally, we have four classes of 80 students, and at any one time have 5 cohorts of 35 non-traditional students. On-campus students take their assessments right in the classroom; non-traditional students can take them from home.

Q: What will you be sharing during your case study presentation at the Users Conference?
A: We will talk about how we have implemented Questionmark Live. We started right away with the beta version and we have really taken off with it. We’ve had new users to Perception come on board just because of its ease of use, and people who used to use Authoring Manager have transitioned over to Questionmark Live. We’ll share what we’ve been doing here and how we have been able to make it easier for the faculty to get involved in authoring questions. We’ll also talk about how we’re going to expand it and start using more of the Questionmark Live features, such as shared question sets. We would like to find out if people in the audience have used Questionmark Live too, so that we can get some ideas from them!

Q:What are you looking forward to at this year’s conference?
A:
I would have to say I’m most excited about Perception version 5. I want to learn all that I can about it and bring back information for others who use Perception. Questionmark puts on a great conference with so many networking opportunities, so I’m looking forward to being with other Perception users. Since we’re going to have a faculty member with us for the first time this year, we’re pleased that he’ll bring a different perspective to the conference and will be able to take what he learns back to other faculty members.

Early-bird registration for the conference ends this Friday, January 22nd. Click here to register or ask to be kept informed.