Full house at the HEA seminar on ‘Devising, creating two-staged online tests’

Last Monday (14th May), had you popped in to the Taylor room in the Sydney Jones Library, the room was buzzing with colleagues attending a seminar funded by the HEA on online tests. The idea of the seminar came from Susanne Voelkel, who together with the eLearning Unit and Educational Development, organised the day’s events. Delegates from all over the country, as far as The University of Glamorgan, came to take part in a packed day, listening to the experiences of our staff who utilise online tests in their teaching.

Group discussion at the HEA seminar
Group discussion at the HEA seminar

Opening the day was Ruth Mewis, HEA, who talked about the changes to the HEA structure and the funding opportunities that university staff can tap into such as the conference travel fund.

There was so much expertise in the room which made the next activity, where delegates shared their experiences and questions about online tests, really useful.

Dr Susanne Voelkel, School of Life Sciences, University of Liverpool speaking about her learning journey with online tests

Dr Susanne Voelkel, School of Life Sciences, University of Liverpool speaking about her learning journey with online tests

What followed was the much-awaited session by Dr Susanne Voelkel, School of Life Sciences, who had the idea for the seminar. Susanne has developed a two-staged approach using online tests to solve the problem of feedback in large classes.

As Dr Neil Ringan, Manchester Metropolitan University, described Susanne’s and the following session by Dr Sue Fowell,  School of Medicine, on writing MCQs, it was

“excellent to see some concrete examples of the ways in which academic staff are implementing the well-known link between formative and summative assessment to enhance the student learning experience.  There is much research to indicate that students only see the full value of formative assessment and the associated feedback (or rather feed forward) when it is explicitly linked to summative assessment.  The session from Sue [Fowell] reminding delegates of the critical importance of designing good MCQs, whether for online use or not, was an excellent sense check that the technology should be seen as the enabler for good pedagogy, and not the end in itself.”

Using SMS response in Sue Fowell's session on writing good MCQs
Using SMS response in Dr Sue Fowell’s session on writing good multiple choice questions

After the usual lively lunch with plenty of networking, delegates were given a hands-on session demonstrating Susanne’s two-staged approach. Participants were able to see the online tests on the computers, the way adaptive release is used, the question types and the kinds of feedback Susanne is giving.

As another delegate summarised: “Having no prior experience of setting multiple choice assessments this workshop has given me the knowledge to be confident introducing computer-based multiple choice tests to handle our large cohort of students in an effective way.” (Dr Leah Ridgway, University of Liverpool)

Dr Lu Mello, School of Life Sciences, University of Liverpool sharing her experiences about podcasts and online tests

Keeping up the dynamisim of the day, Dr Lu Mello, School of Life Sciences, demonstrated the second case study on online tests, solving the problem of student diversity in a postgraduate cohort. Lu makes use of online tests in combination with pre-class screen captures/podcasts to bring students to the same level before her practical sessions start.

As Dr Matt Murphy (University of Liverpool) added:

“This really was an excellent event that opened my eyes to the expertise across the University, and more importantly sparked several ideas for my own teaching.   I plan to use Lu’s approach of pre-class podcasting to frame the lecture content, set the material in context, and make connections to prior learning.  This will surely improve student engagement and thereby enhance learning. I hope the podcasts might help create a sense of personal contact between lecturer and student; something important but difficult to achieve in my very large classes.”

All the sessions generated good discussions around the approaches discussed and the issues of online testing. In addition to TextWall, we also used PollEverywhere to stimulate and share discussions during the sessions, which worked well.

The national event was a brilliant opportunity for staff to share the innovative approaches they are using in their teaching. One of them is already planning another seminar for next year! Big thanks to Jade Jones, our event administrator, to make everything run smoothly on the day! If you were interested in sharing your teaching approach, look out for calls for thematic of discipline-specific seminars at the HE Academy. As facilitators, we are still buzzing from the day —

Tünde & Nick
eLearning Unit


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