The IF-AT Quiz: An Active Learning Technique that is quick, easy, fun, and effective.

 Have you noticed how little your students read, but haven’t figured out how to get them to crack a book?  Have you dreamed of ‘flipping your classroom’, but don’t know where to start?  The IF-AT (Instant Feedback Assessment Technique) offers a simple, relatively low-tech approach that can truly transform your teaching experience.  Here’s how it works:

  • Before the semester starts, order a set of IF-AT scratch-off forms (pictured at right) from Epstein Educational Enterprises.  These are very cheap, and your teaching center may already have them. 
  • For each chapter/source you want your students to read:
    • Create a 10-point multiple choice quiz on the reading, focusing primarily on retention/understanding but with at least 1 or 2 questions requiring some synthesis/integration.   Key the quiz to one of the 26 different IF-AT forms you received from Epstein.  A sample IF-AT quiz is attached to this article for Chapter 3 of Kolb & Wishaw for an Intro to Neuroscience class.     
    • Also create a reading guide for each chapter/source.  These are designed to help students identify the areas of emphasis and provides some self-test questions to check their knowledge (I usually give 4 multiple-choice self-test questions, 1-2 of which will be on the quiz).   A sample reading guide is also attached to this article. 
  • The first day of the unit students take the quiz you created.  They take it, however, two times:
    • The first time is on their own, with scores counting towards their overall class grade.
    • The second time is with a team using the special scratch off forms you received from Epstein.  For each question, the team debates the correct answer, comes to a consensus, and scratches off their answer on the form.  The form provides instant feedback on their response (star for correct).  If the team’s answer is wrong (no star) they rethink the question and make another selection.  Each wrong answer, however, decreases the total points for that item [[suggested scoring: 4, 2, 1, or 0 points for finding the star on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th try, respectively]]
  • Teams report their scores, and a running tally is kept for teams to win extra credit at the end of the semester  [[I award +1% to the first place team, +0.5% for 2nd, and 0.25% for all other teams – it’s not much, but I point out that it could be just enough to round them up to a higher grade]].
  • Finally, you begin lecture and activities based on the reading.  The quiz activities typically eat up much of your first class meeting on the unit (schedule 25 minutes or so), but you now have a group of students who have (mostly) read the material and even talked through a set of questions on the material.  By listening in on their team conversations, you can now focus in your lecture/activities to emphasize the points of confusion and dig even deeper into the material.  [[I typically cover 1 chapter a week with an IF-AT each Monday and lecture/activities the remained of the week]]. 

In my experience, the IF-ATs are transformative.  I adopted them 3 years ago, and have now incorporated them into all of my classes.  Students enjoy them and get an emotional rush from scratching off the answer sheets.  Prior reading and engagement with the material increase.  What I planned as a lecture becomes more interactive because students are not hearing the material for the first time and now have questions and comments.  Listening in on the team conversations is a delight and incredibly informative—you get to hear your students debating, arguing, and thinking critically about the material and can quickly realize places where misconceptions prevail.

The IF-AT was first developed by educators Mike and Beth Epstein, and they have collected a trove of empirical data showing that the approach improves student learning.    I first learned about it from a Team Based Learning (TBL) workshop by Dee Fink, in which the IF-ATs are specifically used in a team context.  It is this TBL approach to the IF-AT that I’ve outlined here.  In my opinion, the entire TBL approach is worthwhile, but the IF-AT stands out as the most effective component as well as the very easiest to implement. 

If you are interested in adopting IF-ATs, here are some tips:

  • Make the teams at the beginning of the semester.  Fink recommends teams of 6-7 to ensure there will be a diversity of opinions on each team.  I’ve run with as few as 4/team in my smaller classes but I agree with Fink that in this case bigger teams is actually better.
  • The approach scales well.  I’ve run IF-ATs in classes as big as 40, and Fink reports success in very large lecture style classes. 
  • Foster buy-in and familiarity starting at day 1.  Rather than present the syllabus, I pass it out, give students time to read it, and then offer a practice IF-AT on the syllabus.  This gives students a chance to learn the routine, and they actually end up remembering more about course policies/procedures!
  • Small quiz impact – the quizzes come before lecture, so some students will complain that they are being tested before being taught.  For that purpose, I usually make the quiz grades only 5% of the total grade—enough to be motivating but not enough to be overly punitive. 
  • The reading matters.  IF-ATs will get your students reading, and you need be sure your quizzes, lecture/activities and exams align well with the readings you have assigned.   This may sound obvious, but I had become accustomed to my students not doing the reading, and thus customizing the lecture to my own tastes and then testing based on the lecture.  IF-ATs enjoin student reading (which is great) but you need focus more on choosing excellent readings and then teaching with the readings as a framework.

And here are some resources:

  • Epstein Educational Enterprises website: sells the IF-ATs, has documentation on how to use them, testimonials, and links to peer-reviewed research on its effectiveness.
  • Team Based Learning Collaborative website: resources and workshops on the TBL approach.
  • IF-ATs for Intro to Neuroscience: This is my Intro to Neuroscience course website.  It has a reading guide for each chapter I covered of Kolb & Wishaw.  Feel free to email me for the IF-ATs I’ve created for this text or for IF-ATs for Gluck (Learning and Memory) or for Nolan & Heinzen (statistics).

If you already use IF-ATs or end up adopting them, please email me with your experience.  I’ll compile testimonials/tips/criticisms/problems for a future newsletter issue.

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