Train Yourself: quiz questions to support learning Latin

With the aim to tackle high failure rates in Latin courses for beginners (which can be taken at any stage in a student’s career), and to facilitate progression to the more advanced units in Latin language, Alison Sharrock and her team developed a large set of quiz questions in Blackboard, now numbering in the thousands of individual questions (!), designed as formative exercises to help students learn.

The team decided to write the quiz materials in-house (based on the course text book), as they found there were insufficient electronic teaching resources available for Latin but also what was available used a different vocabulary set not possible to use in the early stages of language learning.

This project is structured under the headings: Vocabulary, Morphology, and Syntax. The quizzes encourage students to retake the same Tests many times, offering different questions each time, in order to reinforce knowledge and enhance learning, and providing immediate feedback. For example, in order to learn the new vocabulary for each unit of the course, students are encouraged first of all to do matching exercises, were all they have to do is match up the Latin and the English for a small selection of items; then to move on to multiple choice versions on the same material; and finally to do direct entry on that set of vocabulary. Morphology questions cover a range of new morphology for the section, plus previous morphology with new vocabulary. Moreover when introducing a new grammatical function, like adverbs or the passive, Alison encourages students to do a quiz with questions only on that type of item.

During the pandemic, for the first time Alison based some summative assessment on the same bank of test questions, albeit more carefully curated to produce the right effect. In general, the enforced greater use of technology during the pandemic has been beneficial to encouraging engagement with the materials.

Evaluation / Student Feedback

Alison’s evaluation

Overall, the system has been extremely effective at reducing failure rates. Uncompensatable fails are now almost a thing of the past. It has not done as well with encouraging progression to higher levels although there are a lot of factors involved here. One of the hardest problems has been to encourage sufficient use of the system to make it work. At the time of writing, when we are in the midst of the pandemic and all learning has gone online, this has been much more successful. This may be because students are more accustomed to working independently at computer, and it probably helped also by the fact that I have structured the “units” of the course through a Spark page, which directs students to activities in order, including both Train Yourself quizzes and the lecture material which I have provided through Voicethread.

I don’t entirely understand why we have had such a struggle with take-up over the years. I think it is partly because the blackboard quiz system is not particularly attractive, but there are also elements in the actual design of questions that I am gradually improving. One thing is that I made a lot of the questions too hard at first, especially in the syntax sections. Also, at first I generally put 10 questions in a quiz, but this is actually too much for many students before they get feedback. I have routinely moved the syntax quizzes to 5 questions per test, and with some of the new morphology compilations I’ve also gone for five, or sometimes even three. I think this helps a bit.

Evaluation has mostly been simply observation, together with the University’s normal course unit surveys. Asking students directly has not always produced the most helpful information, partly because I can’t get those who don’t make much use of it to tell me why not.

Student feedback:

Especially the quiz yourself is amazing.

Each Unit was broken down very clearly into parts and the ‘Train yourself’ quizzes were very useful to consolidate all new learning.

The ‘train yourself’ quizzes were excellent and very useful.

The Blackboard Train Yourself quizzes- saved so much time having to make my own flashcards, or use Quizlet

In response to “what support service/resource did you find the most helpful?”: Test yourself.

  • The overwhelmingly greatest benefit has been increased learning and resultant passing of the exams.
  • The system is not time-saving, rather extremely time-consuming, but it has a high degree of reusability.
  • Students get immediate feedback, which shows them where they need to find out more or (more often) practise.
Top Tips

It’s a very big job. To make it work, you have to produce a great deal of material, so it isn’t something to undertake lightly. I was able to employ a number of graduate students at different times to help in producing the materials, which was essential.

With an existing vocabulary list, and help from a computer programmer, I was able to generate the types of questions (matching and multiple-choice) automatically. The resultant data did have to be cleaned, but this was still a lot quicker than manual production.

Transferring the materials from one blackboard site to another can be fiddly. From year to year, it can simply roll forward, but unfortunately it isn’t possible to correct an error in one version and have that pull through to other versions. I don’t think there is a solution to this, but it’s something to watch out for.

Watch out for the difference between multiple choice and multiple answer. It isn’t clear to the user whether, for example, there might be only one dative singular in this list, or whether they should look for more than one.



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School: Arts, Languages and Cultures.

Discipline: Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology, and Egyptology

Academic: Alison Sharrock

Course: CLAH 20171-70171, CLAH30182-70182

Themes: Formative assessment, Enhancing Learning with Technology

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