Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Testing as a Learning Tool | UPDATE

I radically changed my approach to testing my A&P students about 13 years ago. It was was one of those experiments that had me questioning my sanity leading up to its roll-out. That's because in some fundamental ways, it challenged my experience of how I and others had always thought about the role of testing in the learning process.

But when it did finally roll out in the first set classes in which I tried it, my new method of using tests as learning tools was a phenomenal success. The class averages on my exams went up by a whole letter grade! Students were working harder—but grumbling less. And student attitudes, which I'm grateful have always been pretty positive anyway, suddenly became downright sunny!

About six years ago, I published an article about online testing as a method of teaching in my blog The Electronic Professor. In the article, I shared my experience in using frequent online tests in my anatomy & physiology courses as a way to get students engaged with the material on an ongoing basis. It outlines how they used testing as a way of learning—promoting construction of a cognitive framework of concepts that helped them prepare for their in-class exams.

Almost a year later, research published in Science further supported this idea. Not that I needed the support . . . my own experience over many years has confirmed for me that it works. In fact, it works VERY well in enhancing student learning. But as a scientist, a variety of independent confirmations of a topic is always valuable and appreciated.

Of course, the concept of frequent, online formative testing (as opposed to summative testing) is not at all new. But like a lot of breakthroughs in teaching and learning, it hasn't caught on with many professors "out in the trenches" yet. But it's really worth taking a look at--and trying it out yourself.

First, check out an updated version of a seminar that I've given on this topic several times over the years.
Seminar: Testing as Teaching
  • Kevin Patton The A&P Professor.
  • Narrated presentation outlining a method to produce randomzed formative tests for A&P.
  • my-ap.us/qtAclX
Next, check out my article from 2009 to get my take on some reactions I've gotten from other professors.
Teaching as Testing
  • Kevin Patton. The Electronic Professor. 27 Feb 2009.
  • Article outlining my use of online, randomized formative tests in teaching A&P.
  • my-ap.us/p3rM6B
After that, take a look at the research published in Science a year ago.
To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test
  • Pam Belluck. The New York Times. 20 January 2011.
  • Brief summary of the research, including a graph of the results.
  • my-ap.us/yP6jZ0 
Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping
  • J.D. Karpicke, J. R. Blunt. Science. Published Online January 20 2011. DOI: 10.1126/science.1199327
  • Original research mentioned above.
  • my-ap.us/yTr2b7
Next, read these brief articles on a few of the many adaptive learning tools that are now available to accompany many of the major A&P textbooks. Oh, if only I'd had something like this back then!
Students Have Fun and Learn Quickly with EAL Adaptive Learning
  • Kevin Patton. Anatomy & Physiology 18 March 2015
  • Article outlining a self-quizzing tool based on the popular Cerego system.
  • my-ap.us/1zgNLEg
Adaptive Quizzing Helps Students Get Ready for Tests and Exams
  • Kevin Patton. Anatomy & Physiology 25 March 2015
  • Brief article outlining a quizzing system that helps students prepare for their exams.
  • my-ap.us/1xzwB3W
Lastly, just take the plunge and try it. Come on—the water's fine and you'll have a blast!

Content updated from a
previous post in
The A&P Professor 
Photo: M. Bowden

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