“That’s Awesome!” — Medical Neuroscience

Great Examples from Online Courses 

What It’s About

Medical Neuroscience by Duke University has awesome multiple-choice question assessments. This course teaches neuroscience at a graduate school level for medical and physical therapy students and provides a thorough introduction to neuroanatomy, signaling, sensory and motor functions, brain development, and cognition. Dr. Len White is deeply engaged with the course, both during production and for each offering of the  course online and has created an astounding amount of content, including an array of meaningful multiple-choice question quizzes and exams.

Why It’s Awesome

Dr. White starts with a clear set of learning objectives for each video lecture across the entire course, just shy of 200 lectures total. These learning objectives help inform students about what they can expect to learn in each video as well as what they should be able to do after they have studied the material.

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Each question of the quiz is identified with a thematic part of the course, such as the cellular and molecular biology theme for the question pictured above. This helps to guide students when they are taking and reviewing their quiz attempts. The questions all contain a correct answer option and four distractors, which are carefully chosen to be challenging and meaningful possibilities while remaining distinctly incorrect for the provided question stem. No absurd answer options or suggestive question-answer pairings here! Students must really know the content well to succeed, and the inquiries are about useful knowledge, not a search for obscure facts from hidden corners of the content.

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There are also creative implementations of questions that challenge students’ knowledge of the geography of the brain. In the example above, a grid is overlaid on top of the brain and students are required to enter coordinates matching to the question prompt. Regular expressions are used to accept inputs that map to a variety of irregularly shaped areas across the brain. This approach prevents unintentional suggestions to the students in the choices of answer options from the more common radio button style and better tests their understanding of the brain structure.

Finally, Dr. White has provided an extensive list of question variations, more than 400 question variants total for approximately 200 quiz and exam questions within the course. The question variety adds integrity and freshness to the assessments, and the full use of Coursera’s features for option pools and randomization means that the question presentation to students can appear almost endlessly varied, yet remains clearly targeted to the original learning objectives. Now that’s an awesome test!

Justin Johnsen

Author: Justin Johnsen

Justin supports Learning Innovation staff as they assist Duke faculty to develop massive open online courses (MOOCs). He maintains a deep knowledge of the features of the implemented platforms and can also offer suggestions on how to use online tools to achieve teaching goals. Justin is the primary technical liaison for Duke with the Coursera company, and he keeps up to date on the latest platform features and issues to share with our Learning Innovation staff and Duke faculty. He has previously worked closely on 'Introduction to Genetics and Evolution', 'Introduction to Astronomy', 'Medical Neuroscience', 'Understanding 9/11', 'Marine Megafauna | An Introduction to Marine Science and Conservation', and 'Tropical Parasitology' offered by Duke and Coursera.