Do They Really Understand It?

by Tonia Malone on June 2, 2010

You’re in the classroom and just covered a very important lecture on alternative fuel vehicles. Your lecture included five different alternative fuel options: natural gas, hybrid, electric, fuel cells, and biodiesel. You see the students looking at you, seeming to be absorbing all the information. Then you ask, “Do you understand?” They nod their heads signifying that yes, they understand everything you just said. That night your students take a quiz in Blackboard and many of them do poorly. But wait – didn’t they all say they understood it in class?

So what is an instructor to do?

I can think of many options to try, but first I would start with the lecture. When you ask the students, “Do you understand? – take it a bit further. Use some active teaching techniques to assess understanding, such as:

  • Clickers: The idea is that the instructor can ask the whole class a question and the students use their clicker (like a TV remote with some letter or number choices) to respond to the question. The student answers are displayed and the instructor can instantly see if the students understand based upon their responses.
  • Think-Pair-Share: State your question, tell your students they have one minute to discuss with their neighbor and then you will pick some of the pairs to answer the question.
  • 3×5 Card: Post a multiple-choice question and ask the students to write their answer on a 3×5 card and pass it to their neighbor. Provide the answer to the class and have the neighbor correct the answer, if needed. Ask the students who have the correct answers to raise their hands for a quick visual response to see how many in the class had the correct response.

Now that you have been able to quickly gauge your students’ understanding in the classroom, how can you develop a quiz in Blackboard to help your students test their understanding before the midterm?

First, I would ask you: “What do you really want the students to get out of this quiz experience?” Is it more important that the student read the chapter, reviewed their lecture notes, and discussed the concepts with a peer or is it all about the grade? I like to use low point quizzes in Blackboard to allow the students to assess their own understanding. Not only does it help the student to see what they know and don’t know, but it also tells you, the instructor, what may be unclear so that you may provide additional resources online or discuss the concept further in lecture, if needed.

A low point quiz in Blackboard (Bb) that is geared to allow students to assess their own understanding would have some key attributes, such as:

  • Make sure your questions are clear and simple. For example, the following question is pretty extensive and is asking a lot in one question:

1) Name five alternative fuel vehicles, describe how these alternative fuels work, and list the pros and cons of each. (Essay format in Bb)

I believe that the question above has more opportunities for mistakes, so let’s break it up into smaller chunks, such as…

1) List five alternative fuel vehicles. (Essay)

2) ___________ consists primarily of methane and other hydrocarbon gases. Hydrocarbons are organic compounds composed only of the elements carbon and hydrogen. (Fill-in-the-Blank)

3) Some constraints of a natural gas vehicle are the price, limited refueling stations, and a larger tank size. (True/False)

  • Allow the students to take the quiz multiple times until they get the grade they want. Start with Blackboard’s Pool Manager tool. From Blackboard’s Test Manager tool, you are given the option to pick a randomized number of questions from a larger pool. For example, you could allow the students to take a quiz up to five times. Each time they would get a quiz with different questions. Within the Blackboard Grade Center, you can choose to keep the last grade, average, or highest grade of the five attempts. Think of these quizzes as a tool to get your students to open their books and review their notes, even if they are doing so while taking their quiz. Note: Make sure to review my blog entry on Blackboard Tips: Assessment to help you create your questions in Excel and import them into the Pool Manager.


“Alternative Fuel.”  20 April 2005. 30 May 2010.

Image from blog/tag/attendance/

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