Questions by Alan Levine (CC-BY 2.0). Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/mrQ1x1

Questions by Alan Levine (CC-BY 2.0). Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/mrQ1x1

I recently trialled a new assignment in my Social Psychology class: During each of the 10 weeks when there was no scheduled exam I asked my students to write multiple-choice questions. That’s right, they wrote questions instead of merely answering them.

From a pedagogical perspective, I really wanted my students to achieve a deeper level of understanding (e.g., the level it takes in order to craft three plausible distractors). However, this assignment also served a pragmatic purpose in that the open textbook that I use for this course (and that I helped revise) does not yet have a readymade question bank.  By asking my students to craft and peer-review multiple-choice questions based on the concepts covered that week (and scaffolding this process over the semester), I considered I had a budding open pedagogy project on my hands.

Here’s how it went:

  1. The students were asked to write 4 questions each week, 2 factual (e.g., a definition or evidence-based prediction) and 2 applied (e.g., scenario-type).
  2. For the first two weeks they wrote just one plausible distractor (I provided the question stem, the correct answer, and 2 plausible distractors). They also peer reviewed questions written by 3 of their (randomly assigned) peers. This entire procedure was double blind and performed using Google forms for the submission and Google sheets for the peer review.
  3. For the next two weeks they wrote two plausible distractors (the rest of the procedure was the same).
  4. For the next two weeks they wrote all 3 plausible distractors (the rest of the procedure was the same).
  5. For the remainder of the semester they wrote the stem, the correct answer, and all the distractors.

I adapted existing guidelines about how to write effective multiple-choice distractors and how to provide constructive peer feedback and produced these two brief guides:

Guidelines for writing effective distractors for multiple-choice questions

Guidelines for providing constructive peer feedback

The result? My small class of 35 students wrote 1400 questions in the span of 10 weeks! And although I wouldn’t consider this a polished question bank ready for use by other instructors, I still consider this assignment to have been a success because the questions steadily improved over the semester (the experience of serving as peer reviewers was especially useful to the students when constructing their own questions). The students were also buoyed and motivated by my practice of including a few of their best questions on each of the three course exams. Looking forward, I plan to have my next cohort of Social Psychology students revise and add to this bank. I figure that it will take only a couple of semesters for us to provide the commons with a high-quality question bank, something that will enable even more instructors to adopt this open textbook.

If you have attempted something similar or would even like to collaborate with me on this assignment, please write a comment below or otherwise get in touch. Your feedback is very welcome.