How do you strike a balance between testing regularly, and justifying the time it takes to set—and grade—those tests? It’s worth investing time in regular checks of your classroom’s progress, but there’s no need to get caught in a cycle of writing, marking and proctoring. Technology can help speed things up, and allow you to get the most out of testing.

Formative assessment with Top Hat

Formative assessment—the practice of testing to check progress and knowledge, rather than to achieve course credit—is a powerful means of creating more accountability and gauging student comprehension. It encourages students to self-reflect with deeper and proactive learning, and allows professors to discover and address any learning gaps they find among their students.

But the main barrier to doing this is time. Printing, marking, returning and recording paper-based tests are all high-effort activities, as Joshua Osbourn, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at West Virginia University, discovered when he introduced regular quizzes. “It was so time consuming,” Osbourn says. Between printing out copies, which wasn’t good for the environment, and spending three hours at a time grading hundreds of quizzes, he found “it wasn’t a sustainable way to do things.”

Osbourn decided to use Top Hat instead of paper-based tests, pausing his lectures and asking questions every few minutes. Top Hat allows you to insert live questions into your lectures—and not just multiple choice, but discussions and click-on-target problems. When Osbourn broke his lecture up with questions, students stayed actively engaged for the length of each lecture, and Osbourn monitored learning in real-time, allowing him to better prepare them for the coming quiz.

Summative assessment with Top Hat

Top Hat’s all-in-one platform can also be used when administering in-class summative assessments—which are different from formative assessments because they are for course credit and often a significant part of a final grade. Once you deploy a test using Top Hat, an alphanumeric unlock code appears on the screen. In order to take the test, students have to input the same code on their devices.

If at any point during the test a student opens another browser on their laptop or device, they will be warned that they can’t return to the test. If they proceed, they will be locked out and only the instructor can let them back in.

The results

Despite students being packed in pretty close together in Osbourn’s class, cheating evaporated. According to Osborn, just being informed of the software’s capability to identify and lock out test-takers suspected of cheating was enough to discourage students from copying off one another.

Students also became even more invested in their results: Osbourn noticed that after taking a test, students would often linger outside the classroom post-lecture waiting for the instantaneous feedback on their performance. “They would wait for me to update the gradebook. They loved that they could get their [quiz] results instantaneously,” he says.

Time invested is time well spent: the benefits of formative assessment in class are clear. And when done regularly, as Osbourn found out, it can also help lessen anxiety about summative assessment.

Learn more about Top Hat’s all-in-one platform for testing—featuring both formative assessment and summative assessment—and how it can save you time and improve engagement: more on Top Hat Test and Top Hat Classroom here.

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