CL Newsletter, November 2021 - Self Checking Activities

Self-checking activities are all the rage these days and we get why. They are a quick way to give students immediate feedback on their work and are often simple in design and easy to templatize and reuse. Combine these reasons with the valuable time-saving qualities that auto-grading provides to teachers and it’s no surprise why they’ve become so popular.

This month, we’re looking to challenge some common beliefs about self-checking activities, primarily these two:

  1. The feedback that students receive is beneficial.
  2. Self-checking activities are easier to create than activities with more dynamic feedback.

But first, some clarification. By “self-checking activity” we mean the type of activity that features only evaluative feedback, where students are simply told whether they are right or wrong.

We’re not saying that there’s no place for this feedback (heck, we’ve used it in our curriculum). Instead, we’d like to share a few ways you might want to vary the feedback you give and the reasons why you should consider it.

So why not self-checking?

Believe it or not, determining whether a student is right or wrong is actually very difficult. Too permissive and a student thinks they’re right when they might be wrong. Too restrictive and a student could be told they’re wrong when they are actually right.

Generally, it’s relatively easy to mark students correctly some or most of the time, but it’s often difficult to mark a student correctly all the time. Instead, try showing students the result of their response and let them be the judge of what, if anything, needs correcting. You might be surprised to hear that not only is this feedback more useful and more reliable, but it’s often easier and faster to make than simple correct/incorrect messages. Check out this example of a task asking students to find the correct location of a clown’s nose.

In the “self-checking” version, we need to figure out:

  1. The x-coordinate of the point.
  2. The y-coordinate of the point.
  3. Whether or not the x-coordinate is correct.
  4. Whether or not the y-coordinate is correct.
  5. How to write these two requirements as a single conditional statement.
  6. What we want to say when the x- and y-coordinates are correct.
  7. What we want to say when either of the coordinates is incorrect.
  8. Whether or not the math input is submitted.

If we reflect the response back to the student, we only need to figure out:

  1. The x-coordinate of the point
  2. The y-coordinate of the point

Not convinced? Here are a few more examples of screens with interpretive feedback (all of which use three lines of code or less) and their self-checking counterparts. Which is more effective? Which is easier to code?

Matching Equations vs. Right/Wrong

In the interpretive feedback example, we show the student the graph that they’ve created and allow them to modify it until it matches the graph shown. The evaluative feedback example only delivers correct/incorrect feedback by checking several points on the curves.

Area and Perimeter vs. 👍 👎

In this interpretive feedback example, we create the rectangle the student enters and then compare its area and perimeter to the solution, allowing them to see whether they’ve created a shape with too much or too little area and perimeter. The evaluative feedback version gives a text response of 👍 or 👎.

Area and Perimeter vs. ✅ ❌

It may seem unfair that the previous evaluative example lacked a graph display and didn’t account for the area and perimeter separately, so we leveled the playing field. In this version, we display the area and perimeter that results from the student’s dimensions on the left and tell the student whether each is correct or incorrect on the right.

Want to check these out for yourself? Try it here:

Try It

The thing that makes designing screens with interpretive feedback more difficult isn’t the amount of code, but the formulation of the idea. Less code doesn’t always mean easier. To help you get unstuck, we’ve put together a collection of various simple interpretive feedback screens. Feel free to use them as is or as inspiration for your next project!

Try It

Correctness Matters

While non-evaluative methods of feedback can be really useful for students, not having the ability to quickly see if a student or a group of students is understanding a concept is not useful for teachers. If knowing for yourself whether a student is correct or incorrect (usually through the teacher dashboard) is important to you, be sure to tune in next month when we talk about dashboard correctness and reliable ways to fetch it.