The Quiz Room: An Educational Experiment in Increasing Motivation

The Quiz Room: An Educational Experiment in Increasing
Motivation and Reducing Assignment-Copying
Leslie Landsberger, Nawwaf Kharma and Kostas Vitoroulis
ECE Department, CONCORDIA University, Montreal, QC H3G 1M8
in turn further reduces students’
motivation to take them seriously.
The Quiz Room is an educational concept
embodied in a software system used to run
a physical space – an actual quiz room – at
Concordia University. The central
question that led to the Quiz Room was:
How do use grades to encourage students
to do their assignments on a regular basis,
but without assigning (too much) grades to
the assignments themselves- which
encourages copying? The answer we
found, implemented and are continuing to
develop is the Quiz Room, and this paper
describes it and other related current and
future educational technology initiatives.
Furthermore, in this scenario, students are
often not sure whether they should or
should not work together on assignments.
The impetus to work together is strong,
since they may learn better and faster by
testing alternative points of view, but their
goals and motivation may be confounded
by the possibility and opportunity for
copying. At any given moment in a
working-group of students, some may be
more interested in learning, while others
may be (literally!) more interested in
Keywords – educational technology,
assessment, motivation, Quiz Room, online exam.
Overall, the issue of assignment-copying
reduces the effectiveness of instructors in
directing the educational experience for
students, and reduces students’ effective
use of the educational framework and their
overall professionalism.
1. Introduction
Assignment-copying can be a serious
problem for both instructors and students.
When students do not spend the time to do
their own assignments themselves, they
don’t receive the benefits of practical
application of the concepts they have
(partially) acquired in lectures and
tutorials, nor the benefit of receiving
personalized feedback on their own work.
Instructors, on the other hand, see copying
as an inherently unfair practice, and tend
to react to assignment-copying by
lowering the grades associated with easily
copy-able assignments and projects, which
2. Problem Statement
How do we use assignments to support
learning, while maintaining the validity of
marking and better aligning student
3. Educational Approach
We have devised a system that (a) allows
teachers to give students serious
assignments, (b) ensures that the students
take these assignments seriously, and
(c) returns grades that reflect the students’
competence and achievement in doing the
result is an inescapable motivation to work
on the assignments and keep up with the
week-by-week course material, more so
than midterms and exams, for which
students may tend to believe they can
catch up and “cram” at a later date.
Students are given assignments. Students
are not required to hand in their worked
solutions to these assignments, and
depending on the course mechanics, may
be given solutions, perhaps after a suitable
time lag. They are given sufficient time to
attempt to solve these assignments, and are
then asked to attend short tests in a
specially designed “Quiz Room”. The
short exams, which may typically take
about 15 minutes to complete, are directly
related to the assignments they are given.
However, the short length of the quiz time
means that only students who have already
worked significantly on their assignments
(or exercised their skills in some other
appropriate manner) can produce correct
Furthermore, this scenario encourages
students to work together cooperatively on
assignments, since it helps clarify the goal
for each individual student, and removes a
motivation among students in a working
group. Assignment-copying no longer
serves any useful purpose.
4. Technical Approach
The Quiz Room in Concordia University’s
Faculty of Engineering and Computer
Science has evolved into a fully
computerized environment in which
students of various courses come to take
their short tests (related to their latest
As such, the Quiz Room functions as a
source of motivation and assessment for
these students, and in the process
assignments (since the assignments are not
The Quiz Room software package features
three clients: the “Manager” client, the
“Supervisor” client and the “Student”
client. The Manager client is used by
professors and/or administrators to
manage the overall operation of the Quiz
Room which involves tasks such as setting
up users, courses, quiz sessions, quizzes,
and managing grades.
The Supervisor
client is used by the Quiz Room
invigilators to manage the test terminals
and to assign tests to students. The
Student client is for the display of the tests
and the answer submission. The software
is implemented in java and each of the
clients can be run on any platform where
java is supported.
Effectively, the students’ motivations
regarding assignments are aligned first
with the goal of learning, which is
maintained as a prerequisite for the
obtaining of marks toward a final grade.
The marks are given solely for evidence of
performance, not for assignments which
can be easily copied.
The marks allotted to quizzes are typically
deemed to be a mandatory part of the final
grade, such that the students must
participate in the quizzes, or lose a
significant portion of the final grade. The
From the operational point of view, the
process is outlined as follows:
student can submit answers at any time
during this allotted time period, or they
will be submitted automatically upon
reaching the end of the prescribed time.
First the professor or administrator creates
a new course or a new section for an
existing course. Then the student class list
is imported and associated to the course
section. The next step involves setting up
the test sessions which may span over an
arbitrary number of days. Finally the last
and perhaps the most time consuming task
is the creation of a number of tests for the
course which are associated to the test
sessions. The quizzes are edited using the
built-in editor and they contain multiple
choice questions composed of text and/or
Tests are automatically marked by the
Quiz Room software. The results are then
automatically logged in a database that is
accessible to the associated course
instructor; the student also receives an email informing of his/her mark.
5. Related Projects
At present, we are also developing and
testing a system that will allow us to
arrange for On-line Exams at a day’s
At the Quiz Room site, invigilators are
present at all times. They ensure the
smooth operation of the facility by
performing the initial setup of the
terminals in the computer lab, and
maintaining the integrity of the testing
The educational underpinning of the idea
is straightforward: students should learn
and be tested in a related manner. For a
course such as programming methodology,
which relies heavily on acquiring
practicable knowledge of a programming
language, testing, or at least some of it,
should occur in a manner that reflects the
way in which students learn the language.
And despite the critical role that
instructors play in lectures, most language
learning occurs through practice, which
occurs on computers. Hence, it would be
unwise to re-structure an entire course to
encourage students to use computers to
learn a language, and then test these same
students, using a paper-and-pen exam.
To take a quiz the student needs to present
an ID to the invigilator and state for which
course he/she wishes to take a quiz. The
software verifies eligibility (among
courses served by the Quiz Room in which
the student may be enrolled), and then
randomly assigns a computer terminal to
the student. Quizzes for several courses
can be accommodated concurrently in the
same room, while each student’s quiz is
executed asynchronously (without forcing
students to begin and end quizzes in
The On-line exam system (or rather
systems) that we have been developing
and testing at Concordia allows instructors
to present students with questions, which
are then solved using specific application
programs (e.g. text editors and a C++
compiler). Students are given sufficient
time to design, implement and then test
At the assigned terminal, the student enters
in her/his ID, and the Quiz Room software
then randomly selects a multiple choice
quiz from an existing (and growing)
database of quizzes, and allows the student
a pre-set period of time to complete. The
their program answers, using a set of testcases provided by the instructor. Students
submit their answers, directly into a
special marking directory (accessible only
to markers) or on disk. Textbooks and
other appropriate reference materials are
available during the exam.
6. Observed Results
In its current incarnation, the Quiz Room
program offers both educational and
organizational advantages. First, the Quiz
Room has effectively (de facto) eliminated
assignment copying from participating
courses. Indeed, this system allows
instructors to confidently encourage
students to work together on assignments.
Second, students have been observed to
ask their tutors about their assignments,
much more often, and in a timelier
manner, than without the Quiz Room.
assistants performing assignment-marking
duties can be deployed elsewhere. Fourth,
eventually, the database will be so large as
to eliminate the need for periodic addition
to it by the instructors of the participating
This approach to testing also has the
advantage of preparing students for actual
work environments, where an employee is
presented with a real-world problem,
provided with various sources of
information, and then asked to work
within a tight time-frame to author
working answers (deliverables), and not
just partially sketched ideas, with a
number of minor mistakes!
The major challenge to finalizing a
technical solution for the On-line
examination system has been security.
Unlike the Quiz Room, on-line exams
require access to various application
programs. Also for on-line (as opposed to
disk-based) submission, certain network
services need to be maintained.
The quiz room was first implemented in a
manual (non-computer-based) mode in
September 2002. The computer-based
version of the Quiz Room facility has been
in operation since the winter 2004
semester and has supported a variety of
Methodology, Discrete Mathematics,
Basic Circuit Analysis, Electromagnetics,
Partial Differential Equations, Signals and
Systems, Professional Practices and
The application programs may be
available under different operating
The trade-off here is that
Unix/Linux-based machines offer us the
highest degree of security. However,
students prefer Windows-based machines.
Our current solution involves using labs
suspending all network services, except
for printing, and using invigilators to add a
final level of security. We hope to move,
within one year, to a system that builds on
this approach, but makes on-line
submission safe.
As to On-line Exams, we will report on
them, after conducting a formal
summative evaluation of the finalized
7. Future Plans
We are currently working on ways to
make the Quiz Room software more
versatile, so as for example, to allow for
short-answer questions and not only
multiple choice questions. We also are
looking for ways to acquire, rather than
simply generate, more questions. Of
course, integrating more courses into the
system is planned
In the long run, it is intended that the
scope of the Quiz Room and On-line exam
systems merge into a more complete and
integrated testing solution
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