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Online Multiple Choice Question Banks

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MCQs are a major part of my working life and were a major part of my H800 EMA. I (foolishly!) suggested them as the focus for this week's group activity and now I feel the pressure of being the 'expert'! 

My initial thoughts about MCQs were that they had been utilized as a cheap and easy tool. They're easy in physical form (quick to mark, easy to grade) and ideally suited to an online environment (clicks, data tracking, easy to mark, easy to grade). I expected to find that MCQs were generally considered as a somewhat lazy and that their use had been a triumph of pragmatism over ideology. I did find some papers taking this position but was surprised to know how useful MCQs could be and how online technology had made MCQs a core part of online learning. The fact that they worked well with early software started it off but they've continued to be used for a few very good reasons. 

Here's a few thoughts I have arrived at in praise of the online MCQ bank!

  1. Gamification! Doing well in an online test can earn you a badge, or a point, or a level. All of these things are virtual but being able to track your own progress (especially in comparison to the rest of the cohort) really can motivate a certain personality type!
  2. Knowledge! Memory recall may be the lowest form of knowledge but it's also foundational to many other kinds of knowledge. In some subject areas there simply are large numbers of terms, concepts and facts which must be learned to master the subject, MCQs are ideal for quick tests to see if these facts are embedding.
  3. Understanding! A well written MCQ can ask a question indirectly and test comprehension and logic as well as knowledge.
  4. Data! This is useful for the learner but even more useful for the institution who can access the massive data bank a large MCQ bank can generate. The data is quantitative, straightforward to analyse and gives a good picture of the way the learners are progressing. Properly analysed data can identify areas of the curriculum where students routine struggle, or disengage. It can therefore lead to adjustments in teaching style and resources to address the weaker areas or extend the areas students find straightforward. 
  5. Ease and cost! Just because something is straightforward and relatively cheap (marginal costs are minimal) does not make them poor. Whilst it is important to invest properly in well written questions and a good software platform to present them online, the cost is low compared to many other teaching methods where there needs to be more face to face engagement. 
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Picture of Anna Greathead

Multiple Choice

Visible to anyone in the world

The multiple choice question is nothing new. It's always been an easy way to test knowledge as questions are necessarily straightforward and unambiguous. Learners have traditionally enjoyed them as they're perceived to be easy as sometimes the process of elimination, or sheer guess work, can get you a mark when your knowledge was shaky. 

In the age of the computer a multiple choice question becomes even more attractive - the questions can be presented on a screen and answered with a click. The computer can present questions in response to previous answers given and the computer can both mark each paper but also analyse the answers of a whole cohort to identify weak areas of knowledge (or even weak questions). Important exams now take place using this method. 

The ease of the MCQ exam though should not be the only consideration. Imagine this question:

"Describe the process of making an omelet"

If a learner had to use a few lines to answer in their own words they may well learn more effectively than if the question was as follows:

"Which of the following describes the process of making an omelet"

A. Break eggs, add milk, heat butter in a pan and then add the eggs. Stir for a few minutes until cooked. 

B. Break eggs and whisk. Melt butter in the microwave then add eggs and microwave for 2 minutes"

C. Separate eggs into yolk and white. Whisk whites until stiff then fold in yolks gently. Bake in a low oven for an hour"

D. Break and whisk eggs with milk. Heat butter in a frying pan. Add eggs, allow to cook before flipping. 

E. Break eggs carefully into a pan of boiling water. Leave to simmer for one minute then leave in hot water for 5 more."

Even someone who didn't know what an omelet was, but did know what scrambled eggs, poached eggs and meringue was, could guess the correct answer. 

In my EMA I want t investigate ways in which the benefits of the multiple choice question can be utilized whilst not sacrificing deep and broad learning. 

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Simon Reed, Tuesday, 17 Jul 2018, 21:25)
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