Monday, October 07, 2013

TiL - a better way of using Blackboard

Blackboard logo File this under the heading Blindingly Obvious, but if it stops someone else making the same mistake, it's worth sharing.

This year we are piloting online pre-lab quizzes via Blackboard to increase student engagement with laboratory practical classes. The quizzes are formative and we are interested in student response rates, as well as delivering useful feedback to students (including directed reading) to improve their knowledge before they take the practical class. So far, the first results look promising.

The quizzes are deliberately designed to be challenging, and to make students read and think about the science they will be doing in the practical class rather than blindly following instructions like a recipe book. For this reason we have been using a range of question formats, including MCQs and fill-in-the-blanks questions. However, to maximize engagement we also want students to write some short answers of about 100 words explaining their reasoning. Initially, I used Essay format questions for this, but they have a serious limitation in our situation. We have hundreds of students taking these modules and we want to give them feedback quickly, and to have a "gamification" element derived from a formative mark. But Blackboard Essay format questions require manual marking. Even though we are only interested in delivering the feedback to students so they can compare it with their answer, manual marking is slow and tedious and removes the instant score element which we know many students respond to.

So I have switched the Essay format questions to Fill-in-the-blank format. This doesn't look as good on screen as students are only presented with a small text entry box (which there is no way of formatting in Blackboard as far as I can see) rather than a proper paragraph submission tool, but we tell them to paste their answer in the box. The big advantage comes in automated marking. By selecting the Pattern Matching option with the correct answer set as ".*", students receive the overall mark for the quiz instantly without any staff input. If they do not answer the question, they don't get the feedback but are politely asked to submit an answer.

It's not the prefect solution but it is an improvement on the first iteration, and we'll see what the students say about it at the end of the module.


  1. Interesting concept, thanks for sharing.


  2. As you say, "blindingly obvious" but it hadn't occurred to me