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!
- 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!
- 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.
- Understanding! A well written MCQ can ask a question indirectly and test comprehension and logic as well as knowledge.
- 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.
- 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.