Cheating, Learning Quizzes, and What I learned at the DMV

by Brian Katz

I recently moved to a new state, which meant that I needed a new driver’s license. I expected to have to sign some paperwork, but I was surprised to have to take a computerized quiz. Although the quiz was trivial to pass, I did manage to learn something about specific driving laws in the area. Inspired by the experience, I decided to use a similar “learning quiz” to deal with some of the issues of cheating that have come up in my past courses.

I don’t recall the details of my quiz at the DMV, but here is an exaggerated example:

Question: Which of the following accurately describes the driver’s responsibility when entering a road from an alley:
a) S/he should speed up to integrate into traffic more easily.
b) S/he should yield to cars, but killing pedestrians gains major bonus points.
c) S/he must come to a complete stop and look both ways before carefully merging into traffic.

Only one of these responses is even remotely reasonable, and the act of deciding which one is very powerful for learning and memory. In addition, I have learned that I must come to a complete stop (as opposed to simply yielding) when leaving an alley.

I have used a similar technique for a few years on a “gimme” quiz given to my lower-level classes about the syllabus. Here are two examples.

Question: What is my professor’s name?
a) Bill Kalahurka, but I call him BK.
b) Brian Katz, but I call him BK.
c) Brett Kingsfold, but I call him BK.
d) Bobby Knight, but I call him BK.

Question: Which word does BK hate?
a) kittens
b) puppies
c) curve
d) bunnies

You get the point. They do well on the quiz, mostly, and it validates a careful reading of the syllabus between the first and second meetings of class. But the DMV quiz inspired me to push a little harder. Instead of a paper quiz, I have moved the experience into our online course management system (Moodle, freeware competitor to Blackboard). This allows me to ask questions requiring more searching and more reflecting. I have also added a link to the Honor Code and begun asking about it. Here are two of my favorite questions.

Question: Which of the following paragraphs does not make particular groups of people responsible for reporting cheating? (The paragraphs are listed by location in the document.)
Question: The Honor Code makes a distinction between cheating on assignments and cheating on tests. Which of the following accurately describes the difference? (I think I will adapt the answers to this one as misconceptions become clear to me, but I always include the wrong thing they think is right.)

In addition, I ask them a True/False question about having signed the Honor code, and I ask for a few sentences about why the Code is important on our campus. The responses are enlightening, mostly involving the weakening of learning (not unfairness).

One of the great things about online quizzes is that they can be set up to give immediate feedback. This really strengthens the learning quiz design. Some systems allow the student to retry a question for full or partial credit. Usually, you can give a message about that particular wrong response. Other systems allow no repeated attempts of questions, but allow students to retake the quiz. Either way, educational research about “blended learning” (partially online courses) is indicating that this kind of activity is very powerful for learning, mostly because the students spend appropriate amounts of time on task.

I expected the major effect of this quiz to be a renewed awareness of the responsibilities of students to the Code, but several of them seemed to enjoy it. I overheard one of them ask my office-neighbor (his advisor) if she would recommend him to be one of the students on the Honor Council. He said that it was really neat to read it again after so long and that he wanted to be involved.

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