Collaborative Quizzes Help Students Focus on What They Don’t Know

Dr. Trina Palmer

Working with others in class is not a new concept, but Dr. Trina Palmer at Appalachian State is applying the idea to quizzes—in mathematics of all things.

Palmer said she was inspired to try collaborative quizzes after attending a Course ReDesign workshop in 2015. The idea was relatively easy to implement as she already quizzed students on day four of each week’s classes.

Now she gives students 15 minutes to take a quiz by themselves and then 35 minutes to work with someone else, using different colored pencils for each segment.

“The purpose of the two colors is to help them know what they know and what they don’t know and what they need to study,” Palmer said.

"I didn't realize how stressful math in general can be for students," she continued, "even for those who are taking calculus. I thought I could ease some of the stress with an activity that has low stakes and where it is okay if they don’t know something."

Palmer said having the collaborative activity be a quiz lends a certain degree of importance to the exercise. Although some students choose not to work with others, she said, feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive.

"They tell me they don't feel alone and feel like they don’t have to know everything that day," she continued. "The quizzes become more of a learning experience than just an assessment. It tells them what they don’t know and what they need to study for higher stake assessments."

One challenge, Palmer said, is dealing with students who arrive late. Her rule now is that students who arrive more than five minutes late have to work solo.

As a result of the Course ReDesign workshop, Palmer said she has also eliminated some content in her courses and concentrates on what she wants her students to remember in five years. Her learning goals now include student journaling focused on how they learn as individuals.

Palmer encouraged others interested in collaborative quizzes to have an open mind and just try it. "Math has always been taught in an isolated way as an individual sport," she said. "To me, if you are going to grow as a teacher, you have to try new things."