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John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman
It’s often suggested in higher education circles that computer-assisted assessment is more useful in scientific subjects than in the humanities.
I’d like to share a counter view from some research by Dr Judith Seaboyer at the University of Queensland. She presented a paper at the 2013 International Computer Assisted Assessment conference about how computerized quizzes can help greatly in teaching English Literature.
One challenge of Literature courses is ensuring students read required texts in advance of lectures: Sometimes students struggle to make time for necessary reading, but if they fail to do it, they will likely struggle later on in essays and exams.
Dr. Seaboyer’s solution? Require students to take an online quiz before each lecture. Students must complete the quiz before midnight the night before the first lecture on a text. The quiz, which includes 6 questions chosen at random from a pool of about 15, gives a small amount of course credit. The questions are as Google and eBook search-proof as possible: using different words to those in the text, so they require real reading and understanding.
Here, for example, is a question about Ian McEwan’s Atonement:

Where does Robbie notice a human limb, the memory of which will return to haunt him?
(a) in the fork of a tree
(b) in a Joe Lyons tea house
(c) on the beach at Dunkirk

The right answer is (a), but this would not be easy to identify by searching, as the book mentions a human “leg” not a “limb” and the other answers are plausible. Unless you’ve read the book recently, you will struggle to answer.
Students reported that the online quizzes motivated them to complete assigned reading before the lecture as can be seen in the survey result below:

"The online quiz motivates me to complete assigned reading before the lecture" Mean 4.31 on Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree Likert Scale

Dr. Seaboyer’s  preliminary research suggests that 83% of first year English students read at least 5 out of 6 books in a course where quizzes were used as against around 45% in a control group.
I’ve seen other examples of quizzes encouraging learners to access learning material that they might otherwise put off until later, and I’d encourage others to consider this approach.
To quote Dr. Seaboyer:

“Computer-assisted assessment can result in more reading and persistent, careful, observant, resilient reading that leads to critical engagement.”

She also believes that this could also apply across a range of other disciplines as well as Literature.