All entries for Monday 16 January 2006

January 16, 2006

Where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly …

… not to encourage students to acknowledge it. There is a lot to be said for creating a climate where students feel comfortable admitting they don't know the answer.

I have just been trying to get to grips with Maplesoft's relatively new assessment software Maple TA. The default format for multiple-choice questions (MCQs) does not seem to offer an option "No attempt" or "Don't know" . The software allows you to include as many parts in an MCQ as you like, but only one correct answer. So if one of your parts is "No attempt", a student choosing it is marked wrong and awarded zero.

My preferred marking scheme for MCQs is something like: 3 marks for a correct choice, 1 mark for choosing "Don't know", and -1 mark for a wrong choice; negative totals are raised to zero, so that students' scores fall in the range 0 — 30 in a test with 10 MCQs. Under this regime, checking boxes at random can yield a positive expected total score, depending on the number of parts to each question. (Of course, you can normalise the scores by subtracting this expected score from the totals, but this seems petty.) A student who answers "Don't know" to all questions ends up with 10 and some would argue this is unfairly generous. But I believe there is real educational merit in rewarding to those who are willing to confront their ignorance; they have a better chance of doing something about it.

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