Conserving Classroom Time with Computerized Assessments

Distance Learning Starts the Process

Tyler (Texas) Junior College (TJC) became interested in using computerized assessments the way that many educational institutions do: via distance learning. The school, which teaches conventional courses to traditional students on campus, became involved in distance learning through its own courses as well as those offered by the Virtual College of Texas. The latter, a statewide consortium, originates courses from any of the more than 50 public college systems throughout the state.

TJC faculty members had been giving paper-based tests to distance learning students at the college’s testing center, a cumbersome process. The school sought a robust software testing system that would enable students to take their tests from anywhere – not just on campus. That program is Questionmark.

Computerized Assessments Save Classroom Time

Tyler Junior College adopted Questionmark five years ago to test the work of distance learning students from remote locations. While these enrollees could take low stakes tests such as open book exams from home with little security, they still needed to come to campus for higher stakes assessments. The school set up a computerized testing center for that purpose, and it wasn’t long before teachers of conventional courses began using the software at the testing center also.

Why? One of the major reasons is that it frees teachers giving tests during class.

“If you’re going to give five tests a semester in class, that’s five class days when you could be doing other things, other types of learning activities,” said Ken Craver, an instructor in Computer Information Systems at TJC. “Instead, if you give your tests using Question mark – giving the students a period of time to go in and take the test – then the teacher gets back those class days for doing other things that are more productive. You end up having more time for learning, having more time for instruction, and that’s one of the things the faculty members like.” 

Craver added that faculty members also appreciate being able to deliver a wide range of question types, not just the typical multiple choice option, in Questionmark. He listed a variety of question types that teachers use including multiple response, which enables students to select more than one choice, as well as drag and drop, short answer, matching, fill in the blank, and true/false questions. In addition, some teachers are using Questionmark's Macromedia Flash capabilities to prepare questions.

“Some of our faculty are using Flash to generate sequences of events, almost like a video, where a student can see something happen and then answer questions about it,” Craver said. “We’re also looking at the potential of using Flash to create much more interactive questions which would require the student to perform an action and have that action graded rather than just selecting or providing an answer.”

Integrating Questionmark with WebCT

WebCT is a computer conferencing and course management software tool used for online course delivery that colleges and universities all over the world use. Tyler Junior College relies upon the software for both distance learning courses as well as those taught on campus. According to Craver, using WebCT on campus makes teachers much more efficient. 

“WebCT provides the students with an easy and very structured way to turn in their work,” he said. “It also makes it easy for faculty members to check to see if the work actually has been turned in and then check it. Teachers can also send the work back to the student electronically.” The software also reduces paper usage because students can access all the information they need for a course online.

TJC is working on integrating Questionmark with WebCT in order to take advantage of Questionmark's security, flexibility and comprehensive reporting. If a teacher gives a test in WebCT, students click on an icon on screen to bring up the Question mark test. The integration will make it possible to have Questionmark scores posted in the WebCT grade book automatically. 

Students can also get instant feedback on their grade as well as the test questions they missed, both real advantages.

Assessments Provide Opportunities for Learning

TJC faculty members use Questionmark not only for high stakes tests but also for quizzes and surveys. Using computerized assessments has the advantage of making these evaluations very easy to deliver. As a direct result, TJC uses Questionmark for practice exams, enabling students to learn from the experience. 

“The idea is for the student to assess their learning and where they are in the learning process by seeing how well they do on the practice test,” Craver said. “That let’s them know where their weaknesses are so they can work on those areas. I’ve found that we can give a wider variety and greater number of assessments using Question mark.” 

The same information provides faculty members with valuable data on areas in which students are weak and, thereby providing additional instruction and practice in those areas. In addition, Questionmark provides almost any type of statistic you might want on assessment results. Detailed information is readily available on each student’s performance, as well as information on how all students performed on each test question.

Keys to TJC’s Success

Craver points to the school’s testing center with its solid infrastructure as one of the keys to the school’s success with computerized assessments. The center, which consists of 29 testing stations, has four full-time and six part-time staff members. They administer the tests in a secure and proctored environment and work with faculty to ensure that students have a favorable testing experience. 

Another key to success for TJC is members of the support staff, who have been trained in the use of Questionmark. They provide essential aid for faculty in creating question databases and individual assessments using materials provided by the faculty. They also publish those assessments on the school’s computer system, and schedule them for access by the students. In addition, support staff can also provide reports to the faculty after students have completed their exams. 

According to Craver it is critical to have faculty, support staff and testing center personnel working together so that TJC faculty and students can reap the benefits provided by online testing through Questionmark.