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Teaching is about connections: students connecting with the concepts they’re being taught, as well as with one another as they share their new insights, and teachers connecting with students through daily instruction and interactions.

One aspect of in-person learning I will no longer take for granted is the need to observe body language and facial cues to gauge student engagement and understanding. By incorporating online forms and surveys into my lessons during asynchronous remote learning, I’ve been able to foster better connections between my students and the content. In this article, I want to share several tips for leveraging these tools to enhance your students’ (and their families’) experiences, as well as your own as a teacher.

Formal assessments using online quizzes

Because formal assessments are critical tools for gauging student understanding and concept mastery, it is important to determine how to best administer them in a remote learning environment. My experience is primarily with asynchronous remote learning, although the tools and tips I’ll share below can easily be adapted to synchronous remote or hybrid learning environments. I will show several examples using the Microsoft Forms app (which is accessible through an Outlook account), although Google and other platforms offer similar features.

Figure 1. Setting up a quiz in Microsoft Forms.

When setting up a new quiz in Forms, you can start by giving it a title and including some directions (see Figure 1). I’ve found that the section introduction is a helpful place to remind my elementary students that the test should represent their own work, and that other resources should not be consulted. For all students, this section could be used to encourage students to find a quiet area free from distractions, to complete the assessment in one sitting, and how to contact the teacher if any technical difficulties arise during the exam.

Although there is not an option to “lock” the assessment so that other internet tabs cannot be opened, there are a variety of other tools and strategies that you can use to reduce cheating. These solutions include narrowing the time window for completion of the assessment, not allowing students to see correct answers after submitting the quiz, and randomizing the question order, all of which can be enabled by clicking on the Forms setting icon at the top right-hand corner of the app screen. In addition, when setting up the quiz, you can shuffle the order of multiple-choice options for each question by accessing the ellipsis for additional options.

The app automatically records when each student starts and finishes the test. This feature was extremely helpful for identifying the average time to complete the assessment (see Figure 2), and determining whether a student used an inordinate amount of time to complete the exam or, on the flip side, had finished quickly because they’d been rushing.

Figure 2. Time stamp data recorded for a fourth-grade quiz.

For example, I noticed that one of my fourth-graders took over two hours to complete a quiz that took most students 10 minutes or less. I also noted that this student had started the exam in the late morning and finished in the early afternoon — leading me to suspect that perhaps lunch happened somewhere in between. When I reached out to the parent, she confirmed that they had gotten distracted, and there were no subject matter or technical issues.

You can set up several different question types in Forms, as shown in Figure 3. I always start my quizzes and tests with three text-style, fill-in-the-blank questions, asking for the student’s first name, last name, and class section. Setting these up individually facilitates easier sorting of the final data in Excel prior to transferring results into the grade book — which is important in my case, since my online grade book and Excel do not “talk” to each other.

Each assessment can also be arranged in different sections by selecting the down arrow (shown at the far right of Figure 3). Dividing an assessment into sections enables you to provide specific directions for different question types, such as multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, or short/long answer (both of which are available, with differing word count limits). If you have a routine assessment that follows a particular format, I recommend creating a quiz template you can re-use each time you need to create a new quiz.

Figure 3. Standard question types in Microsoft Forms.

The “Choice” option is useful for multiple choice, true/false, and matching-style questions. A question, along with its options, can be copied to create successive questions, and updated as needed. At the top of the section, you can indicate which type of questions are in the section and any specific directions, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Setting up a matching-style section with specific directions.

Using the Choice option, you can also assign point values and identify the correct answers for each question. In the settings, you can indicate if you want students to be able to see the results at the end of the exam. I find this feature generally helpful — with a couple of caveats. First, fill-in-the-blank questions require the answer to be spelled correctly. If spelling is not critical in your assessment, you will need to go in and manually add the points back to any misspelled answer you decide to accept.

The same caveat applies to short/long answer. If I use this type of question, I generally do not allow students to see their results instantly at the end of the exam. Since the rest of the test will be graded automatically, I can then focus on grading the written answers, and still get the scores back to the students in a reasonable amount of time. There is an additional feature that enables you to add comments about students’ answers to questions of any type. This feature allows me to be more detailed and efficient in providing feedback, because I can type more quickly than I can write, and am not limited by available space in the margin of the physical page.

You can also upload and embed images or videos in your questions. I found this particularly helpful when I was asking my elementary students to identify simple machine types or label anatomical diagrams. A very few parents reported problems with images loading slowly or not at all. When that happened, I texted or emailed the necessary picture to the parent. In a synchronous learning situation, posting a physical picture on the board or an electronic one in the class chat box could be a reasonable alternative.

The app includes a feature that gives you a quick view of how well students did on each question, as shown in Figure 5. You can also download results into Excel for a more detailed analysis. Ideally, your students will also be using the Microsoft platform to access the assessment. If so, you can adjust the settings so that scores are posted and students can simply access their results with the same link used to start the assessment. For those students who aren’t using the platform (particularly younger students), you can create a PDF of the completed, graded assessment that can be emailed to parents. Although this requires a few extra steps, it enables you to provide more feedback to the students and parents than just a final score in the gradebook.

Figure 5. Analysis of quiz results by question.

Communicating with parents using online surveys

I found the survey feature in Forms useful for communicating with parents, particularly at the beginning of our remote learning experience. A few weeks in, I collaborated with some other teachers to gauge parents’ perceptions of online learning. We asked for feedback regarding how long students were spending on assignments for each subject and how well we were communicating with parents (Figure 6). About two-thirds of our parents responded, and this allowed us to ensure early on that our lessons and pacing were on track with the expectations of the majority of our families, as well as administrators.

Figure 6. Example question in parent survey.

Options for video and lesson feedback

Several weeks into my remote teaching experience, I discovered that surveys and quizzes can be embedded at the end of videos posted in Microsoft’s video application, Stream. I had struggled to know how effective my video lessons were, given that I could see only how many views each video had. This statistic is somewhat misleading, since starting the video (but not finishing it) counts as a view, and multiple views or restarts by the same student would inflate the results. On the other hand, if the video had few to no views, I knew that students were perhaps overwhelmed, or had fallen behind and were catching up on my classwork later in the week.

Embedding quizzes or knowledge checks into the posted videos proved effective, and gave me some of the feedback I needed in near-real time. The quiz could be independently created in Forms and then added to an already-posted video (Figure 7). No additional trimming or splitting required! As soon as the video finished, the quiz automatically loaded. I typically used about 5-7 quick questions to determine lesson comprehension. The time stamps and other data were recorded as described previously, providing me with detailed feedback about each individual student’s completion and understanding of lessons.

For example, after watching the video about the history of the stethoscope referenced in Figure 7, nearly all students correctly answered questions about who invented the stethoscope, what it was made from, and how it was used. The detail of when the stethoscope was invented, however, was missed by almost every student. This helped me better understand how the students perceive major and minor details of video lessons, and informed my thinking on how to review the key points I planned to assess later.

Figure 7. Microsoft Stream video with a knowledge check quiz embedded to automatically load at the end of the video.

Enrichment Applications

The last way I use Forms is for enrichment feedback. In my online classroom, I post an assortment of puzzles, games, videos, and other optional experiments for students to explore — often on Friday afternoons, when the bulk of the week’s schoolwork was already complete. Participants are encouraged to complete the feedback form, such as shown in Figure 8, after finishing an activity. This was a great way to see how well they’d enjoyed my selections, and also to get input on topics or activities they would like included in the future.

Figure 8. An example of an Enrichment Feedback survey administered to students.

Overall, I find online forms and surveys to be helpful and versatile tools for enhancing asynchronous remote learning. They streamline my grading process, allow me to effectively communicate with students and parents, and most importantly, give me a slice of the real-time feedback that I miss when not in the classroom. While certainly not a permanent substitute for facial expressions, smiles, or raised hands, they serve a valuable purpose in a challenging educational environment.

Photo credit:
(article cover) Love Love/Bigstockphoto.com