The horns of a dilemma

How many questions should the ideal quiz contain?

When we first built Yacapaca, a quiz was an encapsulated object of which every question would be presented to the student, albeit in random sequence. When improvements in schools’ infrastructure made it possible to move to dynamic delivery, we took advantage of that to allow authors to specify that only a proportion of the questions should be shown each time. This resulted in assessments that were more formative, more reliable and much better at measuring whole-class progression.

But it was also a mistake.

Specifically, the mistake was to ask the authors to make that decision on behalf of teachers they did not know. When I realised this, I put a fix on the development schedule and, finally, this has worked its way to the top. The software is now in the process of being written.

In future, teachers will be able to set the number of questions to be shown in a particular quiz to anything from 1 to the maximum number of questions in that particular question bank. Problem solved…

…almost. Knowing that new users nearly always accept defaults, I needed to make sure that the default value will give you the best teaching experience. Easy enough; just ask the existing users. I sent out a poll to a small sample of users, and here is what they said:

Questions per quiz 1

The chart looks like it has two horns, one at 10 questions per quiz and one at 20. Dilemma!

At first glance, it looks like 20 is the peak of the main curve, with 10 as an outlier that can be discarded. I nearly went with 20, until I looked at how Google Forms had based the chart. It only shows counts for which there are data. This looks pretty, but skews the interpretation. So I rebased it to a linear presentation.

Questions per quiz 2

Not so pretty, but a better decision aid. Preferences actually group more around the 10-15 range. To understand what these data really meant, I looked into the comments. I had asked users if they had ever had problems with quizzes that were the wrong length for their needs. Yes they had! 7 had found quizzes too long, 3 had found them too short, and 2 reported having had both problems. That is a small sample, but the bias is clear. Long quizzes are a bigger problem than short ones.

So, short it is. When you assign quizzes from now on, you will be able to decide the number of questions for yourself. If you don’t decide, you’ll get 10.

There is one extra enhancement, which I’m not sure will get into the feature launch straight away. Each time you manually set the question count, that number will be remembered as your personal default for the future. Questions counts will also carry over when you Assign Again.

Help students retain knowledge over the summer vacation

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There is solid research to show that students slip backwards over the summer. You didn’t need telling that, did you? It is a common experience that, come September, you are going to have to rehearse the learning from last year.

I’d like to suggest a way that Yacapaca can reduce this problem, if not actually eliminate it. It hinges around two powerful but under-used features: timed assignments, and teams.┬áThe method does require some preparation, which is why I am blogging this now, three weeks before the end of term across most of England.

The core concept is very simple; one quiz per week through the summer, to keep the key concepts fresh in students’ minds. The challenge is maximising the number of students who actually take the quizzes; just dumping a list of quizzes on them is not going to work.

You need to be a bit more subtle and use two tools – timed reminders and peer pressure. Here’s the sequence.

  1. Make sure all your students have their email addresses registered on Yacapaca. They can add it via the ‘Account’ tab. You will be much better off with their Hotmail accounts than their official school ones that they never check.
  2. Check the teams the students are in and do some activities now to build those teams. The peer pressure component will only work if the students feel their teams are real, and are organised to support each other.
  3. Set your weekly quizzes as six separate assignments, not as one big assignment. Set the start and end dates of each assignment so they must be done in that particular week; Yacapaca will automatically email reminders to students at the start of each assignment. You may imagine that being more flexible will increase the response, but all it will do is encourage procrastination. Of course some students will not be able to complete some quizzes, but that’s OK. It is the overall effect you are after.
  4. The only thing you need to do is check the results weekly and announce the winning team (not the winning individual, please! That will only demotivate those who know they will never win). How do you do announce? Easy! Use a Quick Assignment, with responses switched off so it becomes a broadcast tool. Some weeks you won’t be free to do this, but don’t worry. It’s all about creating the rhythm.
  5. At the start of next term, make a big fuss of the winning teams and hand out prizes. I predict that you will have at least four winning teams out of six assignments, provided the teams were well-balanced in the first place. Yacapaca automatically balances teams so that’s not hard to achieve.

One caveat: please don’t mess with the system. The five stages form a chain. Drop one, and the chain is broken.

If you need any support setting this up, write to me or one of the support team (support@yacapaca.com) and we will gladly give you all the help you need.