December 17, 2018

Using Canvas quizzes to foster engagement in large lecture halls

Atousa Hajshirmohammadi (university lecturer, Engineering) discovered that she could foster engagement in large classes by giving in-class Canvas quizzes. Students love the practice.

 Atousa Hajshirmohammadi is making small changes in large spaces to create better learning environments.

Hajshirmohammadi, a university lecturer in the School of Engineering Science, uses non-graded in-class Canvas quizzes to combat the distraction fostered in particularly large, anonymizing lecture halls. She shared this practice at an October 2018 session of the Teaching Matters Seminar Series, a biweekly gathering of faculty members for informal discussions about teaching.

Quizzes as a tool for engagement

“My ideal classroom would consist of a large round table where everyone would be able to make eye contact with me and with each other, so that we could all be engaged and connected,” she said. “However, that is not what the lecture halls I teach in look like.”

Hajshirmohammadi, who teaches classes of up to 200 students, uses the in-class quizzes to encourage students to engage with the material and with each other. The quizzes were developed as part of a project made possible by a Teaching and Learning Development Grant from SFU’s Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines (ISTLD).

“The quizzes are not just about assessing what they know, but about actually supporting their learning. So I always strongly encourage students to discuss the questions and solutions with their classmates.”

The results, she said, have been quite positive. In Hajshirmohammadi’s course evaluations, 68% of students “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that the in-class quizzes were helpful in keeping them engaged during lecture time.

One respondent wrote, “Quizzes are great for learning, challenging to just the right amount!”

Another wrote, “Canvas quizzes helped confirm knowledge.”

Using Canvas for convenience

Hajshirmohammadi noted that although there are many student response systems, such as iClickers, that can be used for the same purpose, Canvas quizzes represented the most accessible option. The quizzes can be viewed on a laptop or mobile device, so there is no need for students to purchase additional hardware. As well, since the quizzes are based in Canvas, students do not need to set up new accounts or pay for access.

In describing how she implements the tool in classes, Hajshirmohammadi emphasized that timing is key.

“I set up the quizzes ahead of time, usually planning one or two per lecture, with each one consisting of one or two questions. I then publish them during the class. What is important is that I don’t give them the quiz right after I introduce a new concept. I give them one or two examples, so that they have had a chance to process the idea, before introducing the quiz.”

Hajshirmohammadi also pointed to the importance of limiting how much time students have to respond.

“I give them at most ten minutes to complete the quiz—any longer and I may risk losing their attention.”

The quizzes collectively are worth up to 2% in bonus marks applied toward the students’ final grade.

“It’s a small portion of their grade, but it can have a big impact on how they interact with the material.”

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