A WhatsApp conversation popped up on my screen. Two instructors were enthusing about the benefits of a program that would import quiz questions into Moodle so they wouldn’t have to struggle with its built-in quiz creator. I had tried to create a quiz in Moodle the week before, but when faced with many boxes and formulas too confusing for any non-math person, I gave up. I told my students to write a sentence using each vocabulary word instead.
The conversation got me thinking. Is it really necessary to give quizzes? How does the quiz help the student grow intellectually? Is it part of a system that should be changed?
We’re currently in the COVID-19 lockdown stage and online learning has, by default, become the way of instruction. Professors who battled with connecting their laptop to the classroom printer are now thrown into a completely foreign arena in which they have little to no experience and/or training. Students, somewhat ahead of the curve as they already live online, are being jolted and jarred mentally. Instead of coming to class, they are now responsible to download lectures or connect in real-time through very unreliable internet, catching half-sentences of information their professor tells them will be on the next quiz. Home distractions add to the strain.
My husband is taking 6 courses this semester and each week he studies for 3 or more quizzes. Most are simple, such as matching vocabulary to the definition. Others require critical analysis and integration of information not taught in class but assigned as reading that students are expected to learn on their own. And I wonder, is it really necessary to give so many quizzes?
As a student, I studied for the test. I did not learn the material for myself; I learned facts for the teacher so I could get a good grade. I know I am not the only one who crammed a few hours before so I could move facts from head through hand to paper and then promptly forget all that was put into short-term memory.
This semester I eliminated all quizzes in my Advanced Writing course. Students are doing a personalized writing project; writing a cause-effect paper on how COVID-19 is affecting education, the economy, and social life; and writing reaction papers on relevant TEDTalks. Their final exam will include an extensive research paper demonstrating concepts they learned in class.
Throwing words onto a 120-slide PowerPoint to later test students on their recall is not teaching. The average quiz is a cop-out, a way to fill class time and have easy quantitative means to prove a student’s grade. We need to disrupt the educational norm and push ourselves to challenge our students. We need to be knowledgeable about the material and understand how to connect the student to the material in a way that changes them.
A quiz is easy. Teaching is not. Let’s support our students in active exploration, creative reflection, and meaningful integration. Then watch them thrive and grow.