Tests Best Practices and Troubleshooting

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Overview (Instructors!)

The Tests, Surveys and Pools tool is a very powerful and versatile tool with a lot of moving parts. There are a few points of failure that can occur along the way when utilizing this tool, and we will detail below some preventative measures to help you avoid potential problems, and troubleshoot a situation that has already occurred.

Student Best Practices

Please visit the Student Test-Taking Best Practices to review tips for students.

Faculty Best Practices

Student Considerations (COVID-19 Specific)

  • Students are being disrupted from their original course plans and may have multiple exams/assessments occurring at the same time, if instructors are giving students extended period, e.g. complete within a 24-hour period. Overlap may occur.
  • Many students will not have adequate technology and aren’t always prepared to do an online version of a test. E.g. completing exam on a cellphone using data if no Wi-Fi available.
  • If students are using a cell phone, there are only certain types of questions that will work - True/False, Multiple Choice, Either/Or, Short Answer, or Essay. If you have prepared a mobile-friendly test with only these types of questions, advise your students explicitly to avoid confusion. If you use any other type of questions and the student is on a cell phone, they will be prompted to open in a desktop browser instead.
  • Give your students the opportunity to complete a short pre-test trial-run in your site to familiarize them with what to expect and make sure they know how to complete it. A pre-test will also give you an opportunity to check the settings you wish to use and ensure they are configured properly. You can test the pre-test out using the Student Preview Option
  • Avoid a tightly timed test as you will be inviting appeals e.g. one minute per question in a two-hour window and the student’s internet situation where they are writing is less than optimal such as dial-up or they are caring for sick family members, different time zones, etc.

Settings

  • Please consider the fact that students may have multiple exams/assessments occurring at the same time, if instructors are giving students extended period, e.g. complete within a 24-hour period. Overlap may occur.
  • Avoid creating large exams (50+ questions) involving many/complex questions and presented all at once. Consider breaking them into smaller exams taken in sequence instead.
  • If you are using a timer, consider giving more time than you would usually offer if students were on campus to account for different time zones, internet conditions, living situations, etc.
  • Ensure students can pick up where they left off if they get disconnected, therefore, AVOID USING THE FORCE COMPLETE option as we have had multiple problems with troubleshooting during or post-exam
  • Give your students the opportunity to complete a short pre-test trial-run in your site to familiarize them with what to expect and make sure they know how to complete it. A pre-test will also give you an opportunity to check the settings you wish to use and ensure they are configured properly. You can test the pre-test out using the Student Preview Option.
  • When including short answer or essay questions, consider separating these sections and using the Assignments tool to collect answers to them. This will help ensure that students don’t lose their work if something should happen to their internet connection as they are writing.
  • Give clear instructions to students such as:
    • Where to find the test in your site and how long the timer will be set for
    • How to get in contact with you if they encounter any issues
    • If multiple attempts are allowed, which ones will be counted
    • Save your attempt every 10-15 minutes (if questions are presented all at once),
    • not to double-click any of the test buttons as issues will arise with the connection to the server,
    • It is advisable to take the test on a computer that has wired internet access, not wireless wherever possible. Avoid taking a test using a cellular data connection.
    • If you notice a problem with internet connectivity, wait 5 minutes and try again before rebooting or closing your connection to the exam.
    • Do not double click test links or buttons (use a single click only). Double-clicking can cause multiple instances of the exam to be open or can clear your answer choices, leading to problems.
    • Use Chrome, or Firefox, but NOT IE Explorer!
    • Blackboard has a Browser-Check Site that checks whether your browser supports the most recent release of Blackboard Learn.
    • Use only arrows within the exam window and not use the browser’s forward or back button
    • Scroll wheel on the mouse can change answers, so double check!
    • Type answers to essay questions in Notepad (or TextEdit on a Mac) then copy and paste the answers into the text fields provided for each essay question. This way, you have a copy of your answers just in case you lose your Internet connection and need to re-take the test. DO NOT USE MICROSOFT WORD! If you paste directly from MS Word, you will bring in some HTML coding that could interfere with the instructor viewing the answer to the essay question or the rest of the test. Use formatting options available in the Blackboard Text Editor.
    • Don’t navigate away from browser as it may kick you out of the exam
    • Click the Save and Submit button only ONCE when done test.
    • More student tips
  • Include test exceptions (students requiring extra time, another date to write, or extra attempts) using the TEST AVAILABILITY EXCEPTIONS options. If providing exceptions, be sure to NOT use the Do not allow students to start the Test if the due date has passed. Students will be unable to start the Test if this option is selected if the exception is to offer the test on a date past the Due Date. Your student won't be able to access it.
  • If you are using a timer, consider giving more time than you would usually offer if students were on campus to account for different time zones, internet conditions, living situations, etc.
  • Include test exceptions (students requiring extra time, another date to write, or extra attempts) using the TEST AVAILABILITY EXCEPTIONS options.
  • Make sure the column for the test in the Full Grade Centre has been set to be hidden from the students until you have all of the grades finalized for that test. This is especially important in the exam window if the test availability spans a larger time than the original final exam window.
  • Visit the College of DuPage's Blackboard Test Feedback Options web page to see what the various selections on Feedback options will show to students.
  • If you are designing accessible content for your test, visit the Accessibility and Blackboard page for more information.

Timed Test Considerations

"Timer"
Set Timer
* The “Set Timer” option will specify how long students have to write the test.
"Display options for test
Display options for test
* The “Display” options specify when your student can start the test (they will have the time limit specified above from the time they start the test).
  • If a student loses connection to the test after the display window closes, they cannot rejoin the test unless you either reopen the test to everyone or use the test availability exceptions to reopen the test for that student. The best way to avoid this is to set a wide display window (such as 12 hours) and tell the students to start the test early enough to avoid having the test go past the “Display Until” time. If you are going to have a short display window (say an hour or two) you really need to be available to your students to deal with technical challenges.

Pre-Test Time

"Student Preview button"
Student Preview Button
  • Make sure the test is set to be Available on the day of the exam
  • Consider making a pre-exam column in the Grade Centre to show students what grade they have achieved prior to the exam.
  • Instructors use your Student Preview to test out and replicate your exam settings in your Sandbox to anticipate problems. On exam day, once the test availability window opens, complete the test as a student so you will also know it is working properly.
  • It is important to be mindful of when Blackboard will be unavailable by visiting the Blackboard Scheduled Downtime and Maintenance page.
  • If no maintenance and other web sites at the University are working check out this PAGE.
  • If your outage reason is still unclear, Submit a Ticket to our Help Desk.

Converting MS Word Tests to Blackboard

There are a few test generators with online software that may produce a useful version (though it doesn't always produce great results). The University of Windsor has set up some online documentation to support using this free test converter available at http://mediawikibe.uwindsor.ca/wiki/index.php/Blackboard_Test_Generator_Documentation

  • Note: Use at your own discretion! These are not Blackboard supported tools.

Post-Test

  • To see what the student has answered, choose View Attempt (right-click the grey editing circle beside the student’s Full Grade Centre cell) to sort out problems. More on grading tests at the Blackboard help site.
  • You can edit test questions only before it has been deployed or remove a question after the tests have been submitted whereby, Blackboard will regrade every attempt for deleted questions.
  • For wrongly worded questions after the test has been completed, you can choose to make the question out of a zero score, thereby giving it as a bonus to students who got it right, and it won’t penalize those who got it wrong or choose to delete the question and having Blackboard regrade all attempts.
  • Instructors will have to decide what to do with test issues arising from the test, and student TeamDynamix tickets will be routed to the instructor to sort out. Use the Test Access log to see detailed interactions the student had with the test for that attempt to choose to respond to the student’s issue.
  • We highly suggest that instructors don't choose Clear Attempt to sort a mishandled test (found in the View Grade Details), but instead, choose to offer an exception (under TEST AVAILABILITY EXCEPTIONS) which will work as long as the test remains available and the Due Date hasn’t passed. Instructors can also choose to ignore an attempt.
  • Instructors can offer another make-up test by copying and setting up a new test and making it available to one or more students using the (Adaptive Release) options and then combining the two test results into a new column in the Grade Centre using a Calculated Column such as Max/Min, Total, etc.
  • Advise your TA/GA’s to avoid deleting attempts but to use other strategies outlined above
  • If you wish to run a Test Analysis after a test is graded, please visit the Test and Survey Results page for more information.

Troubleshooting

Need to troubleshoot? Select the Access Log

"example of a test access log of a student's test attempt"
Student Test access log - click to enlarge
"Test access log button'
Test Access Log - click to enlarge

Be aware that the time spent on a question may include the time that the student spent looking at other questions before saving that answer.

The Access Log shows a detailed list of all the interactions a student had with the test for that attempt. The log shows the time the test was started, when each question was saved, and when it was submitted.

You might interpret an unusual gap in activity as a connectivity problem if the student claims to have had one. However, the system can't determine what caused the time gap. The system can only show that the time gap occurred.

Test access log

Instructors and other users who are granted permission can view a test attempt's Access Log for a list of times of various student interactions with the test. The log can help to confirm whether a student began a test or ran into problems during a test.

  1. On the Control Panel, expand the Grade Center section and select Tests.
  2. Locate the cell for the student's test that you want to investigate.
  3. The cell must contain either a grade or the Needs Grading icon for an access log to be generated. If you submitted the test for the student, an access log isn't generated unless the student selected Save All Answers.
  4. Access the cell's menu and select Attempt.
  5. On the Grade Test page, expand the Test Information section.

What happens if the student's wi-fi disconnects?

First, the "autosave" will stop working, because their computer can't talk to the Blackboard server. If it stays there long enough, a popup should appear telling the students to check their network connection.

So, number one recommendation: IF STUDENTS SEE THE POP-UP TO CHECK THEIR NETWORK CONNECTION, DON'T IGNORE IT, AND DON'T JUST KEEP DOING THE TEST because NOTHING students do after that point will be saved.

  • If the student can fix the networking issue before the 20-minute timeout, then they can probably continue the test, unless they shut down their browser, or restarted their computer, or didn't get assigned a new IP address when they reconnected the network. The exam session should still be active if these activities didn't occur.
  • If a student has restarted the browser or their computer, they will lose their session cookies (which keep the browser session connected). Therefore, when they go back to Blackboard they will be asked to log in again.
  • If the student takes LONGER than the 20-minute timeout to fix the problem, even if they didn't restart their computer, they may find they get an "Access Denied" error message when they try to continue the test. That's because the overall Blackboard login is still working because it has a much larger timeout, but that specific test session will have timed out causing the access denied.

Force Complete and Timer Problems

  • In both these situations mentioned above (timeout happened or student had to restart the browser), the student fixes the network connection, logs back into Blackboard, and then goes back to complete the test. That will work, but ONLY if Force Complete is not turned on AND the test timer hasn't expired (automatically submitting the test). If Force Complete has been turned on, then it is impossible for a student to recover from this and continue the test.
  • If at all possible, avoid using the Force Complete option unless absolutely necessary.

Article adapted from Best Practices for Blackboard Exams, San Jacinto College - http://sjcblogs.sanjac.edu/its/best-practices-for-blackboard-exams/ and with permission from Kevin Lowey, University of Saskatchewan.

Submit a test for a student

If a student was unable to submit a test but completed the work, you can submit the attempt so you can grade it. Follow the steps below to do so:

  1. In the Grade Center, locate the cell that displays the In Progress icon.
  2. Access the cell's menu and select View Grade Details.
  3. On the Grade Details page, select View Attempt.
  4. Be sure the answers were saved.
  5. If multiple questions are marked with No Answer, you can clear the attempt. The student needs to take the test again.
  6. Select Test Information to expand the section.
  7. If you're satisfied with the student's test attempt, select Submit Attempt.
  8. Select OK to confirm the attempt submission.

Clear/Ignore a test attempt

If a student experiences a technical problem or needs an additional attempt, you can clear the test attempt, but it is not recommended. Instead, consider ignoring the attempt and offering another attempt through the TEST AVAILABILITY EXCEPTIONS as long as the test remains available.

Network and Time-outs

On-Campus tips

  • Conduct the tests in rooms with reliable network connections.
  • If you are administering the test on campus in a computer lab, ensure there is good connectivity available. Wifi can be particularly problematic if it is known to have connectivity issues in the area that you are expecting the students to complete the test. Check with IT if you are unsure about a classroom's track record.
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If you notice any errors or omissions with this material, please advise the LMS Team or submit a Service Request at http://www.uwindsor.ca/bbhelp.