The Future of Multiple Choice Questions in Learning: Formative Assessment, Interactive Teaching Modules and Student-created Questions within WebMCQ

James Dalziel, Scott Gazzard


Multiple choice questions (MCQs) have become increasingly prevalent in modern education. The potential for automatic processing of MCQs has encouraged their use in educational testing in a wide range of contexts, including secondary and tertiary level education aptitude testing, formal examinations, and also as part of surveys and attitudinal measures. The use of computers in this processing has been substantial, with optical character recognition (OCR) and direct computer based examinations being major contributors to the rise of this method in modern educational practice. The ability to test large numbers of students using computer based marking systems has helped ease the marking burden of teachers involved in large courses, a problem common to many early undergraduate science programs.

More recent developments in this field have seen the rise of web-based assessment systems, such as WebMCQ. These systems combine the advantages of traditional computer marking with the flexibility in time, place and pace of Internet delivered educational materials. Student evaluations of web-based materials, particularly where these are provided for practice prior to formal assessment (Dalziel and Gazzard, 1999), are extremely positive. Student feedback indicates that the ability to “get a feel for the test” (using practice questions), immediate feedback on incorrect answers, multiple layers of feedback, and the ability to use the system when and where they choose are among the reasons for these positive responses. Where formal exams use the same computer systems as those experienced earlier using practice questions, student familiarity with the interface should help to lessen exam tension and anxiety. Students using these systems for formal tests also appreciate the ability of these systems to provide final scores immediately upon completion of a test.

Web-based systems can offer new advantages to teachers as well, particularly where the entire process of creating, presenting and monitoring MCQ material is available over the web. By centralising all materials, and providing a system for editing questions and monitoring student usage, web-based administration tools can substantially reduce the burdens on teaching staff related to the implementation of computer based MCQs. As systems of this kind evolve in this area and elsewhere in educational courseware, easy to use web tools will help teachers to focus more on content and less on technical requirements (such as new programming languages, web site maintenance, knowledge of TCP/IP, etc.). This evolution in educational software systems should help teachers to spend more time on the task of teaching, and less time developing and testing software.

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