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How to Give Cooperative Quizzes


Early Notice

Like any teaching innovation, it's important to set expectations early. Let students know in the syllabus and on the first day of class that they'll be engaging in cooperative quizzes. Let them experience it immediately so they get habituated to the new process. 

Creating Groups

A good size for a working group is somewhere between 3 and 4 students. Groups can be drawn randomly or you can allow students to form their own groups. If you're doing the coop quiz in a large lecture, you can tell students that the original groups are provisional, but that they'll be forming permanent groups in the second week, so they should sit next to whomever they want to in their group from that day forward.a id="shake" name="shake"> 

Because the cooperative quiz may be new to some students, it's useful to begin with a fairly easy quiz and to step them through the process. Guide them to fully discuss a question, to attempt to arrive at a consensus--though typically majority rule will prevail--and to realize that wrong answers can possibly emerge through discussion if they aren't appropriately challenged. The shake down quiz is also a good moment for students to initially experience success in your course. As they grow in confidence, you can progressively make the quizzes more difficult. If students fail early, however, they may grow skeptical of the testing mechanism. 

Smaller Settings - Labs

In a laboratory setting or small lecture, it's possible to quiz the groups orally on their answers. If a group has gotten the answer correct, every member of the group ought to be able to explain it to the class. The instructor can randomly choose a group member to describe how their group arrived at the right answer. This method emphasizes individual accountability. 

Alternative formats

Another way to vary the administration of cooperative quizzes is to divide a longer quiz into two sections. Students may work on the quiz collaboratively during the first half of the quiz but must complete it individually. Again, this reinforces individual accountability. Still another way to vary the format and keep students from overly relying on any one testing mode is to switch between individual and cooperative testing without advanced announcement throughout the term. 

Grading Options

How you choose to grade the cooperative component of the quiz depends upon what you wish to accomplish with this assessment. If your goal is to provide a low-stakes quiz practice and to foster collaborative learning, you could either not count this portion of the exam or make it simply an opportunity to earn bonus points. In part, this format works well with less motivated students and addresses the frequently heard complaint that not all students pulled their own weight on the exam.

With more experienced students or students who have greater intrinsic motivation--juniors, seniors, grad students--actually counting the group portion of the quiz works well. More advanced students quickly learn the value of collective wisdom on assessments and see the value of positive interdependence. In general, though, it's helpful to make the assessment a learning activity that isn't impaired by becoming overly stressful.

In general, if your intention is to foster peer collaboration, it's best not to grade on a standard curve but on preset criteria. When students are graded on a curve, there is little incentive for them to help each other since aiding another student could possibly hurt their standing in the course. 

Variations

If you quiz often, you may want to change the format of the quiz every once in a while. You can make a quiz a bit more difficult but offer students different helpful options. For instance, you might allow them to use one student's notes for a particular quiz, or have the option of asking the instructor or TA a single question. You might allow a more challenging quiz to be open book. A round in which groups have 30 seconds to explain to the class their rationale for an answer can be both fun and a helpful all-class review. These gimmicks add a little variety to the quiz and can remotivate students who find more advanced material particularly difficult. 

Frequent and Immediate Feedback

Research suggests that students learn better when they receive frequent and immediate feedback. In a cooperative learning setting, students begin to get feedback in their quiz discussions as they bring forward answers. They test their explanations in the group and find out immediately if they're on target or slightly off base. Still, a group may not know whether or not they answered a question correctly, so you may want to formalize a feedback mechanism.

Many instructors use IF-AT (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique) or “scratch off” forms as the group answer sheets. After an answer is decided upon, a group member then scratchs off the answer and immediately knows by the presence of an asterisk whether or not the answer is correct. If the group is wrong, the members know right away and can continue to work on the problem. Partial credit can be given for getting an answer on the second or third attempt. One of the drawbacks of IF-ATs, though, is that they are not currently machine-scoreable as a Scantron answer sheet is.

Group feedback can also be orchestrated through audience response systems (also known as personal response systems or “clickers”). In these scenarios, each group might take control of a single response transmitter and answer questions collectively as part of a larger class discussion. Answers can be recorded and displayed to give students a chance to see how their group is performing in contrast to the rest of the class, and the instructor can immediately assess which parts of the content is commonly understood or may need some additional attention in class. While extremely efficient, this technology has a bit of a learning curve, is somewhat expensive, and is not entirely flawless. However, as the technology matures, audience response systems may become ubiquitous and the learning curve far less daunting.

For further information on ARS or IF-ATs, see:

  • Cotner, S., Baepler, P., & Kellerman A. (2008) Scratch This!: The IF-AT as a technique for stimulating group discussion and exposing misconceptions. Journal of College Science Teaching. Forthcoming.
  • Duncan, D. Clickers in the Classroom. (2005). San Francisco: Pearson Education, Inc.
  • DiBattista, D., J. O. Mitterer, and L. Gosse. (2004). Acceptance by undergraduates of the Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique for multiple-choice testing. Teaching in Higher Education 9(1):17-28.