Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

W.W. Norton’s new InQuizitive partner to the Bergstrom and Dugatkin Evolution textbook

Posted 15 Oct 2015 / 0

W.W. Norton Company, the publisher of Carl Bergstrom and Lee Alan Dugatkin’s Evolution textbook, have released a demo version of a new learning tool called InQuizitive. This activity leads students through a series of questions designed to test their understanding of phylogenies as well as the rather bizarre and counter-intuitive jargon of phylogenetics.

I played around with this tool without having the benefit of the textbook, and it is an interesting approach to drilling students on their understanding of the chapter reading. The graphic approaches, which employ a Flash-like drag-and-drop interface to allow students to suggest answers and get instant feedback, are really compelling. This interactive platform allows students who get wrong answers to be instantly guided back to the section of the book that they appear to have misinterpreted, which I am sure students will appreciate.

There’s also a really interesting approach to assigning a grade. Students control the stakes of each question by indicating their level of confidence, and then have to answer as many questions as it takes to earn a target score. A little graph lets you know your progress as you gain or lose points towards that goal. This should mean that students who really grasped the reading should be able to earn full credit rather quickly and with few questions, and students who are struggling more will have to answer more questions. If the sequence of questions is designed properly — in a kind of progressive loop of topics — that should allow all students to gain mastery. I am impressed with this approach, especially because it does not penalize a student for getting wrong answers so long as that student sticks with the assignment and gains understanding through making mistakes.

But what are students mastering in these questions? Based on my sample, these questions seem to me to be training for typical multiple choice exam questions. What we are given are traditional true/false, matching, and fill-in-the-blank questions, albeit in souped-up digital form. This approach to teaching phylogenies stands in stark contrast to SimBio’s Flowers and Trees lab, which I have used in my Evolution course. Whereas students actually see phylogenies evolve and infer phylogenies themselves in the SimBio activity, InQuisitive seems to mostly be about learning jargon and reading trees. This is a far less conceptual approach to teaching students how phylogenies work.

A Minor Post, Educational Software and Apps, Educational Technology, Evolution Education, Teaching Tools

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