Getting to the Right Answer in Collaborative Testing

Although group testing is still not widely used, it is an approach more faculty are exploring. Creative approaches to design and unique features can prevent many of the problems associated with it. However, faculty are still very concerned with what happens when students discuss answers collaboratively. Fortunately, some of those issues are now being looked at empirically.

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Although group testing is still not widely used, it is an approach more faculty are exploring. Creative approaches to design and unique features can prevent many of the problems associated with it. However, faculty are still very concerned with what happens when students discuss answers collaboratively. Fortunately, some of those issues are now being looked at empirically. For example, in this study, researchers tackled these questions: Which students, the ones with the right answer or the ones with the wrong answer, most often change their answers as a result of the collaboration, and which students, those performing well in the course or those doing poorly, have the greatest impact on group responses? Are the smart students making the decisions for the rest of the group? The study involved 65 vet students who first took the 20-qualitative-question test individually (details about the test question format are included in the research article) and then with a selected partner retook the same test, submitting a single copy of the test that included both their names. There was also a class testing component that involved a discussion of answers with reasons in support of answer options given by students and the teacher. More details on the testing procedure also are in the article. Analysis revealed that 22 percent of the total individual answers were changed during the collaborative group testing. “Most of the changes occurred in groups when students initially had incorrect responses. Few initial correct answers were changed to incorrect responses. Thus, it is more likely to convince someone who is incorrect than someone who is correct.” (p. 27) One surprising result: in some instances, even two students, both having incorrect answers, were able to get the correct answer through discussion. As for who's persuading others of the right answer, “both high- and low-performing students, when they are correct, can generally convince their peers with incorrect responses to change to correct answers. Therefore, based on our data, we suggest that during student discussions, it is more important to have the correct answer than to be the high-performing student of the group.” (p. 27) This answers the concern many faculty have that the capable, well-prepared students are carrying others in the group. In this study, the low-performing students did not automatically defer to those who were performing better in the course. The researchers see the “generation of explanations” as a “powerful means to increase knowledge.” (p. 27) “We walked around the room and observed the students interacting during the collaborative testing procedures. It was clear that the students were engaged and committed to the process.” (p. 28) They saw students listening intently, asking each other questions, presenting counterarguments, and responding to each other respectfully. The research team contrasted that with what happens during a traditional testing situation. Students find out they missed a question. They typically don't talk with others about what's wrong with their answer. Maybe, if they happen to have missed many questions, they come to see the professor, but often that discussion is an argument over points, with little learning resulting from the exchange. The article opens with an observation that merits thoughtful consideration in light of these findings. “An essential part of scientific inquiry [probably true of all inquiry?] is collaboration. Why, then, do we discourage collaboration by telling our students to ‘do your own work' and ‘keep your eyes on your own paper'? This is educationally unsound because physiology is a creative science in which the synthesis of new ideas requires discussion and debate.” (p. 24) Again, don't most of our fields involve creative integration best advanced by interaction?  Reference: Giuliodori, M. J., Lujan, H. L., & DiCarolo, S. E. (2009). Student interaction characteristics during collaborative group testing. Advances in Physiology Education, 33 (Summer), 24-29.