Evan Risko: Interpolated and Distributed Testing
Evan Risko, Psychology
We were interested in examining the implementation of two forms of testing – interpolated testing (i.e., inserting questions into recorded lectures) and distributed testing (i.e., having practice testing that is spaced out rather than lumped together into, for example, one module) – into a large online course.
1. Did you learn anything unexpected?
We were actually quite surprised by how effective interpolated testing was in increasing student retention of course material. In our initial analyses the gain was about 3% on relevant midterm tests. Given the nature of the course and our manipulation (i.e., only a couple questions in each lecture) we were surprised it worked out so well. This is good news of course. We have more analyses to do and are currently replicating this result, so we will see if it holds up.
2. Why were you as an instructor interested in pursuing this project?
As an instructor who teaches about memory and does research on memory in educational contexts, I end up being keenly aware of recent developments that can be applied in the classroom. The LITE grant program provided us with a mechanism to examine how these recent developments can be most effectively implemented in our specific context.
3. Have you become involved in other activities or projects (e.g., departmental committees, curriculum projects, other grant projects) because of having conducted a grant project, or because of the findings of your project? Please describe.
Yes, the LITE grant has directly fed into in-laboratory research projects investigating how to optimize interpolated testing regimens (i.e., how do we use this technique most effectively) and more generally into my SSHRC-funded research examining how best to design recorded lectures for online courses. This project has also led to a wonderful working relationship with the Centre for Extended Learning here at the University of Waterloo (these are the folks responsible for all of our excellent online courses) which I think will be invaluable going forward. Our work with them both feeds into our research and we hope influences how online courses are designed here at the University of Waterloo.
4. How do you think your findings might apply to other disciplines?
Fortunately, both interpolated and distributed testing are practices that can be widely applied. In any discipline that requires the retention of course content for extended periods of time (which I suspect would be most if not all) these testing techniques could be effective. We have begun talks to extend these methods to other online courses at the University of Waterloo.
5. What advice would you have for others starting a teaching research project?
As a researcher used to having a controlled environment (i.e., a laboratory), I think the greatest challenge is trying to do high quality research while working in a rather uncontrolled environment. My advice would be to be cognizant of this lack of control and be prepared to adapt as challenges arise in the course of the project. It will not be perfect but I think doing this kind of work has important implications for improving the learning environment at the University of Waterloo and LITE grants do a wonderful job enabling it.
6. Has the project changed your identity as a teacher?
I would say it has reinforced it. I have always viewed myself as an instructor who uses evidence-based practices in the classroom. The LITE grants have allowed us to do this in a much more rigorous manner. For example, most research on testing is done in a laboratory. For an instructor wanting to apply this in their classroom, you would have to kind of work out the implementation on the fly (i.e., how do I implement testing in my class). The LITE grant has allowed us to compare experimentally different implementations so that we could find the (hopefully) best implementation for our specific scenario.
7. Have you changed anything (or do you plan to change anything) in your teaching because of your experiences with this project? Please explain with examples.
Yes, I have recently added more distributed testing in my in-person classes. For example, I have always tested often in my courses but I tended to test material only once (i.e., say the week after it was presented). I have recently increased that to add a stronger distributed testing element. For example, now students might be tested on the previous week’s material and the material two weeks back. Thus, students receive more practice retrieving the information and that practice is more spread out in time.
Learn more about the LITE Grant program.