Thursday, October 9, 2014

Multiple Choice Questions Have a Role In Education

In its flexible learning strategy, the University of British Colombia identified issues for universities, the most important of which I would summarise as
  1. Increasing focus on vocational education,
  2. Online competition,
  3. Demand for mid-career education.
The problem for higher education institutions is to provide courses which are accessible (preferably online), meet the vocational needs of students, but are also academically sound. In announcing the decision of Central Queensland University (CQU) to discontinue the use of multiple choice questions for examinations, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Rob Reed, discussed the history of educational psychologist Frederick Kelly's use of the tests in WW1 US Army intelligence testing. CQU was concerned that multiple choice questions were not suitable for assessing real world skills. 

Anderson and Dron (2013) categorised three generations of distance education pedagogy based on the learning theories underlying them. However while being an improvement on an analysis simply based on the technology used, this still assumes that only one approach to learning can (and should) be applied in a course (or program). Students need to have a basic knowledge of a topic, before learning advanced skills. Rather than adopt one teaching and assessment approach for a whole course, these should suit the particular material and level. It is proposed that a combination of techniques can be used to teach basic and advanced material to the same students using the same learning technology.
 Multiple choice questions (MCQ) are a useful way to provide a student with feedback on their progress. This should not be seen as an alternative to assessment of deeper learning, but as a supplement. By banning MCQ for examinations, it is not clear if they have prohibited their use for other forms of assessment.
A search of the CQU Handbook found many courses for semester 3 2014, which have on-line quizzes as part of their assessment. An example is Aviation Theory IV (AVAT12004), which has seven on-line quizzes making up 70% of the assessment and "Written Assessment" for the remainder. It may be that these on-line quizzes use no multiple choice questions and all require numeric or short form text answers. However, that would not appear to be a particuarly useful assesment strategy, as it would take more time and staff effort, while not appreciably improve the quality of the assessment.

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