Using online assessments to enhance student engagement with biological psychology
Coursework tasks were introduced for the teaching and assessment of biological psychology modules for cohorts of over 200 Psychology BSc students. Biological psychology is considered “hard” by many psychology students because of new neuroanatomical and pharmacological terms which can be a barrier to learning. Regular online assessments were introduced to encourage the habit of undertaking work related to the lectures each week, so enhancing engagement with the course. Coursework tasks were aligned to the module aims, including writing a glossary to build up familiarity with new terms and producing an electronic “leaflet” on a brain topic of the student’s choice. For the latter task students worked in small groups to encourage discussion and to reduce staff marking load. The best “leaflets” were made available online for all students to view for a competition. Online quizzes were particularly popular and were the most efficient method of delivering and marking weekly coursework. The multiple choice questions (MCQs) were devised to encourage students to review key points from the preceding lecture and provided practice for the MCQ component (50%) of the final exam. It is argued that MCQs suitably designed to probe key concepts can be used to assess deeper understanding, not just knowledge of facts. In particular, questions set to be answered in the student’s own time during the week following the lecture can be more complex, requiring further study around the lecture topic, than MCQs as used in a traditional test. Student comments on the online MCQs included: “... they make you search for the actual purpose of things...you get a better idea of how everything slots together”. Interestingly, performance on MCQs in exams correlated significantly with that on the written exam answers (r=0.657 and r=0.590 in two modules, p<0.01), suggesting both methods assessed similar underlying knowledge/ability.