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Topic: The Myth of Multiple Choice
Replies: 2   Last Post: Nov 22, 2010 7:43 PM

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kirby urner

Posts: 2,578
Registered: 11/29/05
Re: The Myth of Multiple Choice
Posted: Nov 22, 2010 3:54 PM
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On Mon, Nov 22, 2010 at 12:51 AM, Robert Hansen <> wrote:
> In a recent post...
> Jonathan provides three common myths regarding the multiple choice format used with testing. Actually, two and one half myths, the first myth has an actual mathematical basis but he has exaggerated it into a myth. I'll first list the three myths and my responses and then dive into the real culprit, the nature of the exam questions themselves, not the format of the answers.

I have no problem with multiple choice testing as a format.
However, from my work at McGraw-Hill, I have inherited a
bias against "electronic page turners", i.e. using computers
merely to perpetuate paper-and-pencil era templates, minus
much imaginative / futuristic development. I studied many
academic papers reaching the same conclusion: open
ended free form activities that nevertheless conformed to
strict rules, would lead to exploratory behaviors and help
develop skills and talents more likely to remain dormant
if electronic page turners were used exclusively.

Given the time frame, Logo and sometimes BASIC were
pushed forward as among the open ended activities kids
could pursue. Many in fact did get into these activities,
spent hours and hours on them. They're adults by today
and many will report on their earlier days using these tools.
We're in a position to do longitudinal studies of those
with early exposure to programming and other forms of
electronic endeavor, such as video editing, simulation
playing, etc. Some studies are reporting the deleterious
effects. Grades may suffer if students get too sucked in
to their virtual communities, chat with each other instead
of doing their homework.

Korea already has deprogramming camps for students
needing to detox from too much time on the Internet.
Given all the optical fiber and bandwidth per capita (much
higher than in the USA, which ranks low among the
G20), these problems are more serious. If you want
to see what's down the road for USA students, just look
at more advanced countries to see what they've been
facing. There's something to be said for learning from
others' mistakes. Sometimes it's a strategic advantage
to be a late adopter of whatever technologies.

Anyway, back to testing center technologies and what
students might face: multiple choice is expected.
However, it's also possible to set up interactive puzzles
that don't take too much time to solve, if you have done
enough homework. You have to move a few objects
around on screen, win a quick game. Animation was
involved. Biochemistry was a topic. Just hooking up
the atoms in the right way, to build the molecule with
the given structure, is a pretty typical test challenge.
Where do the carbon atoms go? Is that a double
bond? "Construct a road system with these segments
such that no truck has a grade of over 13%". There
are quite a few correct answers, which the computer
will score. No "multiple choice" need apply in this case.

I bring up these more open-ended test questions to
remind teachers that "teaching to the test" does *not*
mean just going through multiple choice possibilities
all the time. Games like 'Zoombinis' and "Rocky's
Boots" were what we favored in our publishing
persona (McGraw-Hill). "Electronic page turners"
were by contrast quite unimaginative. You'll get a lot
of curricula that are like this: stale, still-born, not
ready for prime time. If you're a faculty person
empowered to recommend imports, then I suggest
you "try before you buy" (which advice applies even
if the materials are free, given opportunity costs).

As many of you here know, I recommend math-through-
programming, and do not shy away from object oriented,
even though some functionalists distrust it (too much
hidden state, reliance on side effects). When I give
classes in Python, I'll set up little puzzle situations,
challenges, but I won't have multiple choice answers.
This mirrors real life a lot better and encourages
developing stronger math skills, better problem solving.

Simulations of Old Man River City provide a backdrop
in some versions. How to build it? Where to put it?
Lots of math comes into play, as well as some history,
some time line stuff. There's this movie narrated by
Bill Cosby we just screened, about stereotypes in the
movies. Students see how people are stigmatized for
some kinds of math (such as gambling) but not others
(such as investing in stocks). Sad but true: the kind of
math you practice comes with moral attitudes. Best
to get these out in the open, talk about the values.
We use a lot of old math books for this, as many wear
their morals on their sleeves by today's standards, are
not subtle at all. You can see where math has been
used through the ages to enforce moral codes.
Rainforest Math was in no way new or original in
this regard (nor was Katrina Math, which I've written
about extensively on math-teach, in the aftermath of
that disaster, a time when Old Man River City would
have been nice to have).


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