Respondus and Sakai: The Answer to Online Quizzes

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

You’ve been using a course management system (CMS) for your courses, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re completely online, completely onground, or somewhere in between. The CMS has some advantages, and you’re making use of them. If you’re like me, then you’ve also toyed with the idea of putting quizzes online.

It makes sense. It frees you from the drudgery and loss of class time associated with paper ‘n’ pencil tests. Students can take the quizzes on their own time, 24/7, as long as they complete them by a specified date. You can set it up for mastery learning so they can take it as many times as they need to before the deadline, with only the highest score being recorded.

Scoring is done automatically, instantly, and the scores are recorded in the gradebook automatically, too. Students can log in to check their scores. You can log in, too, to look at their scores. Sounds great – until you actually tried to set up a simple quiz and found the klutziest interface in the world. So you remained with paper ‘n’ pencil or did away with quizzes altogether and replaced them with discussion forums geared to readings.

But the problem of students refusing to complete required readings unless there’s a quiz attached to them persists. The top third of the class will do the readings, but the rest will wing it. It hurts their performance, but they can’t or won’t make the connection. For these students, reading is a means to avoid the pain of flunked tests, not a means to learn, to improve performance.

So I returned to the testing function built into our Sakai CMS. It’d been a few years since I last tried it. Maybe it’d gotten better. But after a few minutes of poking around in it, I found it was just as klunky as ever. After rooting around for a bit in our university’s IT help files looking for a miracle, I found something called Respondus.

Respondus is an app. Our university system provides it free to all faculty. Yours probably does, too. The IT help page provides a click-here trail that leads to the site, followed by a download and set up on your computer’s desktop. Click the new icon, and, voilà, your test and quiz creation woes are over.

Respondus is a relatively simple to use test development app. It allowed me to create a ten-question multiple-choice quiz quickly and, dare I say it, naturally. This is done outside the CMS — which at once explains the ease of use and highlights the shortcomings of CMS environments.

After you’re done, the next step is to get the test into the CMS so your students can take it. The process is logical. You need to convert the quiz into a format (QTI) that Sakai can understand. Respondus does this for you when you click on the button to “Preview & Publish.” It walks you through a few steps and creates a folder where you want it. I chose the desktop. In the folder is the quiz file in the required QTI format.  Continue reading

MOOCs Experiencing an Identity Crisis

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

The University of Hong Kong,1 following the popular flip trend, is taking tentative first steps toward incorporating MOOCs into their on-campus courses. (See my earlier article on blended MOOCs.) Like its counterparts in the U.S., HKU’s MOOCs are closed for their on-campus students but simultaneously open for outsiders. In other words, they remain tethered to traditional courses for F2F students and free for distant students.

Noteworthy is HKU’s discovery that MOOC forums, unlike online forums attached to onground classes, “are extremely lively.” One of the professors attributes this disparity to the comfort of anonymity and is looking into extending the anonymity option to on-campus students.

Another explanation may be that F2F meetings simply render online forums moot. Off-campus MOOC students, lacking this option, turn to the forums for their sole means of interaction.

Yet another explanation is that the open end of MOOCs is disruptive, attracting a completely different population of students. For example, HKU MOOCs — dubbed HKUx to reflect its association with edX — attracted 10,000 to 12,000 “students from 173 countries,” and “more than 10 per cent were over 50 years old, and the median age was 29.” This population, although varying widely in characteristics, shares a common problem that sets them apart: They’re unable, for whatever reason, to attend F2F classes. For want of a better term, they are nontraditional students.

The implication is that HKUx and similar MOOCs are both closed and open at the same time, serving two distinct populations with very different purposes.

In the coming months and years, it’ll be interesting to see if HKUx professors will realize that, from the perspective of on-campus students, their MOOCs are essentially blended courses. It is only from the perspective of distant students that they appear to be MOOCs.

The fact that two very different populations can coexist in MOOCs opens up a lot of possibilities. First and foremost is that the success of MOOC practices for nontraditionals could gradually loosen the tether to F2F classes for traditionals, transforming blended courses into true MOOCs or, at the least, completely online courses. The primary obstacle to this scenario is the fear that interactions inevitably suffer in online forums. The success of HKU’s MOOC forums, however, belies this fear.

Another possibility is that tradition will outweigh the potential advantages of MOOCs and keep them anchored to on-campus classrooms, sustaining the blended model for who knows how long.

In the end, traditional students will probably tip the scale away from blended to MOOC when they realize that online learning is just as if not better than F2F for a number of reasons, including the freedom of anytime-anywhere engagement. When — and not if — this happens, the longstanding policy of withholding college credit for MOOC courses will be on the line.

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1Victor Wang, “How MOOCs helped University of Hong Kong apply e-learning tools on campus,” South China Morning Post, 20 July 2015.

Blended Learning, Digital Equity, Skills-based Economy

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Phil McRae is among the very few in education who see a problem in hyping blended learning, “where students’ face-to-face education is blended with Internet resources or online courses,” as innovative. He says, “As this broad definition illustrates, it would be difficult to find any use of technology in education that does not easily fit into this boundary.”1 This is not to say that all uses of technology in schools aren’t innovative. Some are. But simply adding web content or activities to classes that are primarily F2F isn’t necessarily new or effective.

Still, the biggest problem with blended approaches, innovative or not, isn’t so much its effectiveness but its impact on completely online courses. For many educators, blended is synonymous with online when it reaches a tipping point, measured in a ratio between F2F and online requirements. When a certain percentage — roughly 80% — of the course work is online, then the class is placed in the same category as fully online courses.

This seemingly innocuous perception is arguably the greatest impediment to the development of completely online courses and programs. The F2F imperative, whether 20 percent or 1 percent, instantly eliminates the possibility of disruption that defines online learning. In other words, the door for nontraditional students who cannot, for whatever reason, attend classes on campus remains closed.  Continue reading

Textbooks, Emoticons, Assessment, Technology

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Universities seek alternatives to expensive textbooks by Leslie Corbly in Deseret News National 4/25/15
With the increasing cost of textbooks, schools are adopting policies to allow open source textbooks that can be offered free online to students. Research shows that interactive digital texts not only cut costs but improve student engagement.

Some bilinguals use emoticons more when chatting in non-native language in Science Daily 2/17/15
The use of the emoticon (which many people love to hate) by language learners was studied by a research team and compared to the use of nonverbal communication and found a correlation ;-)

New Tablet-Based Interactive ELL Test in Language Magazine 2/20/15
This new tablet-based assessment, which can provide data about ELLs, raises the question about how much information we want a private company to have about our students and whether and how it should be disseminated. These issues are not addressed in the article.

Teachers Mixed on Common Core, Support Blended Learning by Dian Schaffhauser in The Journal 2/9/15
A poll conducted by the Association of American Educators showed that more than 90% of teachers in the US report that they use technology in the classroom and that 67% of them are in favor of blended learning and that students should be required to take at least one online course before graduation. I assume they are talking about high school.

Technology changing teacher’s role in Science Daily 2/16/15
In what should come as no surprise to anyone, a recent Finnish-Swiss-Belgian study showed that “the use of technology changes the role of the teacher from a traditional knowledge provider rather into a facilitator guiding the students’ learning processes and engaging in joint problem-solving with the students. In addition, technology offers a range of new types of learning possibilities.”