Questionmark Quizzes Keep Independent Learners on Track at Thomas Edison State College

Distance Education for 10,000

Established in 1972, Thomas Edison State College only enrolls adult learners. These students lead busy lives, squeezing their education into days filled with work, children, and other responsibilities. Being able to take classes that often depend entirely on independent study -- on their own schedules -- represents an ideal arrangement. Clearly it’s a popular choice. The school enrolls over 10,000 students, representing every state and nearly 80 countries, delivering associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. 

Towards that end, the college has developed programs that appeal directly to this audience. One of them, known as e-Pack™, enables students to enroll in an independent study course that relies upon mastering material in a textbook. After each chapter or unit, the enrollees take an electronic assessment – a quiz – through Questionmark. The quizzes are only for practice and to reinforce what they’ve learned; they don’t count towards their grade. As a result, the students can take them over and over viewing a different set of questions covering the same topics (utilizing the random presentation feature within Questionmark). When learners answer a question incorrectly they automatically receive feedback on that question. The feedback, provided within Questionmark, points the student to areas in their textbook for review.

IT Staff Creates Program to Import Questions and Feedback

While the concept of providing feedback to students taking online courses is a good one, actually executing the work of creating and then importing the material into the electronic quizzes became a daunting task. Because Questionmark makes it possible to randomize the questions in the quizzes, each e-Pack™ course might actually have 400 to 500 quiz questions. Faculty members provide the questions in all forms – word processing files, publisher test banks, test files, and even handwritten, making the task of creating quizzes even more daunting. 

“One multiple choice question might actually require entering feedback five times for the four different choice options and one no-answer,” said Emily Carone, assistant director of learning assessment at the College. “When you’re talking about 500 questions, that takes a lot of time and creates a high potential for errors.”

Clearly it wasn’t possible for a two-person staff plus a contingent of work-study students during the summer to accomplish this task in a timely manner manually. Carone and assessment technology specialist David Schwager looked to the school’s IT department for help. IT created a program, dubbed Item Preparation Application or IPA that can import questions from a number of different sources and store them in a database. The program then links individual questions to topics that have also been entered, automatically generating a boiler plate feedback statement that says, “You missed this question. Review [such and such] a topic in a [particular] chapter or unit.” 

After creating the feedback, IPA creates a file that’s ready to be imported into Questionmark using its ASCII import function. In addition to reducing the department’s workload, IPA also helps ensure assessment accuracy. In addition, it allows faculty members to easily access the course test bank over the web to edit the questions. 

“We just have to type in the topic information one time and then we get a one page printout so we can do quality control to make sure there are no typing errors on the list,’ Schwager said. “It really reduces the amount of potential error, and we’ve found that it has reduced the amount of actual error as well.”

Questionmark Exports Courses to CD

One of Thomas Edison State College’s major clients is the United States military. Soldiers in far-flung places such as Iraq and Afghanistan routinely take the College’s distance learning courses so they can continue their education. One group, however, is unable to access courses online. Serving on submarines in the Navy precludes that option. 

Using Questionmark's QTI XML export option, the department exports interactive courses to software called Lectora, developed by Travantis. The program enables the school to put e-Pack™ courses on CDs specifically for use on submarines. These CD courses give the Navy students the full feedback that conventional online classes provide for other distance learning students. 

Thomas Edison State College Uses Questionmark for Surveys, Evaluations, and Tests
While a large percentage of the College’s use of Questionmark involves providing feedback to students through quizzes in e-Pack™ courses, the school also employs the program in other arenas. The nursing program at the school uses Questionmark for course evaluations. The College has now initiated a program with the U.S. Army that enables students to take exams within their courses. While all high stakes exams at Thomas Edison State College are administered in a proctored environment, the Army program does not require proctoring since the exam represents only one component of their course grade. 

Thomas Edison State College also administers what are known as TECEP® tests. These allow students to earn college credit without taking formal courses by permitting students to demonstrate college-level knowledge they have gained through work, personal interests, or independent study. Credit is granted after these students pass a single examination. Since the stakes are so high, these exams have only been given on paper in proctored testing rooms. Recently, the College has created a pilot program to give these exams, still in a proctored environment, using Questionmark instead of paper.

School Expanding Online Offerings

The response to the College’s e-Pack™ offerings has been enormously positive and Schwager and Carone are creating more of these courses so students can spend as much time online as possible. Given the college’s constituency it makes sense. The duo also look to expand the school’s use of Questionmark .

“We love Questionmark and we’d like to see everyone in the college use it, so we’re always talking it up,” Carone said.