June 10, 2023

Examining the Utility of Moodle Quizzes

Over the past few years, I have worked to increase the active learning opportunities in my physics classes – Peer Instruction, Cooperative Group Problem Solving, and card sorts to name a few. One of the biggest obstacles to adding new teaching ideas is the time it takes away from other teaching methods and assessments. To help free up time, I made the decision to move all of in-class quizzes to a learning management system (LMS). As it turns out, that decision has proven to be incredibly useful in pandemic teaching. 

Moodle is an older LMS, and one that doesn’t get a lot of attention these days, but it has unique features that make it essential to my teaching. We have largely moved to Google Classroom, but I’ll fight to have my school hang on to Moodle as long as possible. It is an open-sourced LMS that is free to use. 

The tool that I make the most use of, is Moodle’s quizzes, with the ability to create calculated questions with wild card variables. These wild card variables allow me to give every student the same question, but with different numbers for each of them. I can set the range of values for each wild card variable. In regular times these questions allowed students to show their understanding of key concepts in a low-stakes situation. 

Building Questions

In order for questions to work in Moodle, the solution to the question needs to be formatted as a single calculation. The more complicated the question you want to ask, the more complicated the question solution is to format.cBelow is the a question from my universal gravitation quiz, with the question construction, what students see, and how the correct answer is build using Moodle’s syntax.

How the a question is built:
What is the period of a satellite that orbits the Earth at an orbital radius of {B}?
How the question appears in a quiz: 
What is the period of a satellite that orbits the Earth at an orbital radius of 7681627 m?
How the answer is coded: sqrt(4*pow(pi(),2)*pow({B},3)/(6.67*pow(10,-11)*5.98*pow(10,24)))

In the above question, {B} was the wild card variable representing the distance for the orbital radius. This turns into a different number for each student.  This question has only one wild card variable but questions can have as many wild cards as there are letters.  The second example below has four wild card variables in it.

How the a question is built:
[Inserted image]
For the above circuit, the batter voltage (V) = {M} Volts
R1 = {G} Ω
R2 = {H} Ω
R3 = {F} Ω
Determine the current through R1.
How the question appears in a quiz:
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Annotation-2020-06-11-141943.png
For the above circuit, the battery voltage = 15 V
R1 = 43 Ω
R2 = 24 Ω
R3 = 16 Ω
Determine the current through R1.
How the answer is coded:

Moodle has a detailed list of functions that can be used in calculated questions.  The limit to the questions that can be asked seems to depend on the patients of the person writing it.

The Pros…

After five years of using Moodle Quizzes with my senior students, I am happy that they are an everyday part of my teaching.   They have successfully freed up time in class for more active learning.  When I first introduced these quizzes, I hoped that they would have the added bonus of relieving some of the pressure students felt in any quiz or test, given that I built them to have multiple attempts, with Moodle doing the tabulating and only counting their highest attempt.   Lastly, I had a long-term goal in mind that these quizzes would prepare my students for the transition to post-secondary, where online components to face-to-face classes has been increasing over time.

I collected data from two years’ worth of students to get their opinions on the use of Moodle quizzes, and they were quite willing to share their thoughts.  Over eighty percent of responding students reported that these quizzes helped them to learn material incrementally as they progressed through the units.   The felt that they were a good opportunity to reinforce concepts and double check their understanding.   They also reported reduced stress due to the multiple attempts, and that the quizzes “allows us to learn from mistakes without grades suffering”.

…the Cons…

Outside of the time it took to create questions, my biggest concern was that students would get someone else to complete quizzes for them, since they were not doing them in class.   This has been less of an issue than I feared, after having discussions with classes on the value of these quizzes.   Every year, I make an effort to point out to them that these quizzes are meant to reinforce the fundamental principles covered in class and that learning the material for the quiz will help them to understand it for later, larger assessments.  Students seem to largely engage in these quiz questions, and based on the number of students that ask questions about them across the year, I believe they are completing the quizzes themselves.

The other issue that has come up is students forgetting to complete quizzes when they are assigned.   My hope is that these quizzes keep students working through material on a regular basis (rather than waiting until the end of a unit).   Most students complete the quizzes in the week that they are open, but there are always a few that miss deadlines, and a few others that chronically forget.  I am pretty flexible with reopening quizzes, so long as they are cleaned up by the end of a given unit.   We tested one unit where the quizzes were all opened at the start and closed at the end of the unit.   Students generally did not like that format, as they ended up leaving them all to the end, which created more stress for them.

…and the Pandemic

In a world where I can’t be in the classroom with my students, Moodle quizzes been an invaluable way of checking that my students are still understanding the material we are covering in class. They became a way of seeing if students were still engaged and provided a way to give them credit for work they have been completing.  As these quizzes were already part my instruction, there was no issue of getting students up to speed once classes had to move online.

I’d be happy to share my bank of questions – feel free to contact me by email or via Twitter.

Joe has been teaching physics and astronomy for 16 years in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. In addition to teaching, he has a strong interest in Physics Pro-D, and finding experiential learning opportunities for his students. He has brought students to the Canadian Light Source to run experiments at the synchrotron, and had students competing in the ESA CanSat competition. Joe can be found on Twitter @jm_muise

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