Learn has a built-in ‘Test’ feature that can solve some of the problems of online assessment

I started using Learn’s integrated quiz feature about two years ago. It was a while before I could talk about it without swearing. But it has now become a major asset to my teaching practice which I’m really f**ing grateful for in the face of the digital challenge which is Semester 1, 2020-21.

I’m writing this because I’d be happy if my own voyage of discovery could spare a single colleague some misadventure.

I use Learn quizzes for both formative and summative assessment, but primarily as a feedback device. Knowledge checks which get students to check in with themselves, as a step towards understanding what it is that they need to ask us.

The feature that I’m talking about is called ‘Tests, surveys and pools’. It’s in Course Tools, from the left-hand menu bar.

I use weekly revision quizzes plus graded (summative) tests. The very best part of this is that I NO LONGER HAVE TO DO THE MARKING because I already did that when I built the questions in the first place: Learn now marks automatically into Grade Centre.

These quizzes – the ‘tests’ – are based on question ‘pools’. If one is feeling smug and efficient, one can prepare these in batches, which is satisfying in the same way as eating a really good pie you made for the freezer. Or having someone else pour you a cup of tea.

When you create a test, you can put it together from scratch with new questions specific to that test. Or, you can set a question which draws down on a designated pool that you already created. To deploy a test, you create a particular instance of it through a link that becomes visible to your students.

Why use pools? To generate randomized but equivalent test papers. This is a Big Deal because it lets you support students with adjustment schedules, and accommodate all sorts of asynchronous assessment dilemmas. For example, you can have a timed test which starts from the moment a student presses ‘Begin’. This can be a different duration for each student if necessary, and they could either be sat next to one another, or in different countries.

Preparing questions involves writing feedback for both correct and incorrect answers. I once read a book about caring for my pet guinea pig which said: “Do not feed your pet garlic, it makes them furious.” Well, turns out that setting a quiz with insufficient feedback makes students furious. But online learning feels less remote with instant feedback.

As with EVERYTHING about Learn, the quiz platform’s strength is its weakness: seemingly infinite combinatorial possibilities for bespoke, personalised ‘solutions’. This means endless options, filters, adjustments, preferences… And this can cause something I’d describe politely as fatigue.

The flexibility does mean, though, that it’s possible to design most assessment formats that you can imagine. Your questions or tasks can be posed as straightforward, plain text. Or they can include images, documents, websites, sound files, videos – any media.

Question-types can include, e.g., sophisticated multiple choice, short text, long essay, ‘yes/no’, or answer via ‘upload file’ – which is VERY HELPFUL if you are teaching music notation and you need to see images of students’ handwritten scores. (I wonder whether it could also be a useful device for other visual or practical ECA courses?)

Previously, I set a written final exam for this course to assess handwritten work. There will be no timed exam for this year’s students, it will be coursework only. I’ll use the Learn test platform to set tasks and see uploaded images of their work. I tried this out in the August resits and it worked fine.

If anyone is considering using Learn quizzes I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.