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Online Blackboard Exams

Teaching fully online courses can work well for both students and faculty. However, how to evaluate online students involves significant tradeoffs. All essays / writing assignments submitted via SafeAssign? Require the exams to be on campus? Or use the online exam function in Blackboard.

I’ve tried all of those methods and have found that for 100 and 200 level courses, all writing assignments can be too difficult for many students. Requiring them to come to campus for multiple choice exams creates conflicts for students who are increasingly taking Queens College classes from long distances.

So let me share some tips on the benefits and risks of Blackboard – multiple choice exams. First, students get their grades right away, which they love. The set-up of the questions is quite flexible and relatively easy. You can randomize the questions and the answers, which is useful.

Aside from potential student dishonesty, what you need to know is that the exams tend to crash – usually mid way through. At that point the student will contact you and ask for a reset. In some cases the student has seen most of the questions. You have to decide whether to reset or count what they’ve done to that point and add the second part of the exam. Most of the problems can be eliminated by requiring students to use Firefox as their browser. It appears most compatible. I’ve asked Ken Lord for advice and have not received any so far. For about 90% of students using Firefox, the exams work the first time.

I’d love to hear from others who use Blackboard exams and have had similar or different results.

Phil Lewis

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4 comments to Online Blackboard Exams

  • I totally agree with you. I also choose to show the questions one by one, instead of all. And time the quiz, so that it is not possible to find the answers during the quiz time, although it is an open book quiz. I did not hear students’ complains about the crash. Maybe my quizzes are short – 8 tricky questions for 10 minutes. We also go over the questions in the following class, so they know which answers are right.

  • I had a difficult time with Blackboard quizzes because I like to incorporate short answer questions into assessments. I feel it gives students an opportunity to expand on their answers and receive partial credit if they can remember at least some of the material. This makes online quizzes a bit of a moot point since Blackboard can’t “grade” answers that do not have an exact answer, so I ended up having to print all of the quizzes one-by-one and grade them by hand anyway. If I were to move to strictly multiple choice I would try this again.

    My first semester I taught I used the quiz function on Blackboard but found that some students had difficulty accessing it depending on the browser used as well some students having never used the quiz function before.

  • Like Nicole, this isn’t an option for the types of exams I usually administer. In English classes, asking students to respond to multiple choice or one-word answers is limiting; it doesn’t enable me to have the students provide critical and creative responses through writing.

    One semester (back in the hazy past) I did try to combine questions so that the first 7 were right / wrong and the final three were more subjective – but that defeated the idea of quick and immediate grading as I had to evaluate each of the final answers independently anyway.

    Any tips or suggestions?

  • I use Blackboard’s online exam forum often and I find it a great tool, especially if the students are going to take future NYS certification exams. The NYS testing is moving to an online format from the traditional paper format and these online Bb tests are preparing the students for the future online exams. When I first started to use the online timed test there were many students that complained about the test crashing. But the reality was one of two things,that the test timed out or they did not have reliable internet service and lost the connection. The test would time out because the students were spending too much time looking up the correct answers.

    My solution?…I spoke with the TA in the computer lab and she suggested this…I told my class for future tests that it was their responsibility to confirm that they had a solid internet connection and if they were unsure they were welcome to use one of the computers on the QC campus in one of the computer labs to avoid the test from “crashing”. Then I also reminded them that even though it is an open book test, the test is timed and if they are spending too much time looking up answers they will run out of time. I explained that I do not reset the test anymore and interestingly, I have had no more complaints about the test crashing! 🙂