I teach an undergraduate course in thermodynamics. In class pop (surprize) quizzes account for about 10% of the grade. I use canvas for my in-class quizzes (and to collect homework assignments, start discussions).

The class room I teach in doesn't have computers so when I set up an pop quiz on canvas, I generally let the students out of class during the last 10 minutes to log in to one of the several campus computers to take the quiz.

However, I know that our computers aren't top notch and one can easily spend about 5-7 minutes just logging in and another 2-3 minutes launching a web browser to access canvas.

Given these technical issues (that can't be sorted out because of a lax IT department) I generally keep my quiz open for about 9 hours. This also takes into account the other classes that my students may have to rush in to right after mine which might prevent them from attempting the pop quiz until later that day.

Isn't this unfair to students who take the quiz immediately? By keeping my quiz open for 9 hours, it takes away the surprise component of it substantially. Is there a way I can do this without having to have quizzes on paper and in-class?

Should I just be mean and keep my quiz open for only the 20 minutes or so at the end of my class?

Edit: I was thinking about this and I thought of a couple of things that I'd like to add:

  1. One way to nullify this is by announcing that there would be a quiz in the next 3 days. That way, the students will try and learn and not just haphazardly flip through their textbook as I assume they would if it were a true pop quiz.
  2. I could tell them that the examinations which account for 70% of the grade will be tough and it would be sensible to be honest with pop quizzes.
  3. Borrowing from Zenon's comment below, why not mix multiple choice questions with single valued answers with only 1 attempt?
  • Is anyone forced to take the quiz immediately? I don't think so.
    – nhgrif
    Aug 8, 2015 at 12:45

3 Answers 3


Given the limitations of the material of the students and at your disposition why do you do a quiz on internet? You can be assured that students talk between themselves. I think that you should simply do the quizz in class with pen and paper to be really fair.

If you have a large number of students, you could do most of the quizz as multiple choice questions and use a device (scantron?) to correct them automatically. As a complement you could have a few questions with one word answers.

  • good point. However, doing the quiz online provides some advantages: 1) The quiz grades itself and the imposed time limit ON THE QUIZ works. 2) This provides me with metrics that I cannot very easily collect as to what portions is a certain person faltering in vs the rest of the class. As to the students talking between themselves, that actually gives some perspective to my dilemma: who is the biggest loser? The one who cheats. The quicker they understand it, the better.. I suppose? Thank you for your answer. But I would really like an opinion on how better to do this.
    – dearN
    Jan 22, 2013 at 23:46
  • Not to mention, It is easier to use canvas for quizzes than grade 80 papers with varying scribbles on them.
    – dearN
    Jan 22, 2013 at 23:56
  • 3
    @drN are your question multiple choices? Most places have facilities to correct those automatically.
    – Zenon
    Jan 23, 2013 at 0:29
  • I have multiple choice questions. You mean facilities like the "scantron" thingy? Your question provides me with inspiration. Why not mix multiple choice questions with single valued answers that the person HAS to know to answer it!
    – dearN
    Jan 23, 2013 at 0:30
  • @drN Yeah I was thinking about the 'scantron' (is that really how it is called?). Also, about the 'learning', I do completely agree with you that the cheaters are the biggest losers. Sadly our system doesn't work like that and grades is mostly the only metric used until you get to grad school/job. And having a mix of Multiple choices with single value answers could be a simple way to get most of it done by a computer and yourself taking not too much time to correct the rest. I will add it to my answer if you don't mind.
    – Zenon
    Jan 23, 2013 at 0:34

First it is only unfair if not all students had the same information. If you say "the quizz will be open for 20 minutes" and leave it open for 9 hours, it is somewhat unfair. If you are clear, then they have equal chances. However that does not solve your other issues such as students chatting or cheating.

I think your real solution is: if you don't have the resources to make them take the online test in a decent way, just do it the old fashioned way. I have never worked with scanning machines, but if they work fine it sounds like a good solution.

Another way of not having to grade everything is to have students take the test, then shuffle the papers so that another student grades them. You cannot have all your evaluation performed in this way, but you can do some. If you want to further decrease the chances that they do not grade tests honestly, you can announce that you will perform yourself a second correction of 10% of the tests, and that graders found cheating will have their own mark diminished or invalidated.

  • I thought of having them shuffle answer sheets among themselves to grade it but I think thats rather unfair as I am paid to administer tests and gather grades manually or via a computer! :P
    – dearN
    Jan 24, 2013 at 0:02
  • @drN I don't think it's unfair… let's put it another way: having them correct their tests themselves allows you to give them tests more often (because it takes less time from you), which improves the quality of their education. Or it gives you time for more efficient things like improving the current curriculum and course material, and again they benefit from it.
    – user4231
    Jan 24, 2013 at 8:52
  • I am grateful to your answer but for just this we must agree to disagree. I have to take into account what the students think or feel when their instructor asks them to shuffle papers and grade them. If it were done to me (and it has about 10 years ago) I would say that the instructor is being lazy.
    – dearN
    Jan 24, 2013 at 12:47
  • First it is only unfair if not all students had the same information. It's also unfair if it rewards dishonesty, such as students telling other students what's on the quiz.
    – user1482
    Apr 27, 2014 at 22:47

An alternative not yet mentioned (caveat: this is a method I've done some work on) is to use a combination of QR codes and google forms. Then, the students can take it on their cell phones in class and the remaining students can take it pen-and-paper.

It does have the weakness that particularly savvy students can cheat by texting each other answers, but there's tradeoffs to every possible method of testing.

This could be more helpful than sending them off to the computer lab. Their entries will also be time-stamped so you can say you won't accept anything not finished before a certain time.

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