Does Test Anxiety Diminish the Benefits of Frequent Low-Stake Assessment?

The underlying assumption to my question is that frequent low-stake assessment is beneficial to student learning. In the discipline of neural science, prefrontal cortex activation was found during testing “retrieval” where none was found during study “encoding” which suggests that the retrieval required for testing promotes memory of that information Liu et al. (2014). Newton & Winches (2018) propose that you create a “culture of redemption” when students can learn from the feedback they receive and use it to improve on the next assessment.

Anecdotally, I have found that frequent low-stake assessment has led to better attendance, engagement, and performance. I perceive this because students tell me they like the small quizzes and overall attendance and grades are improved in the classes that I use this strategy.

However, I perceive there to be an increase in test anxiety and so when given the opportunity to think about a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (So TL) Project I thought a focus on test anxiety would be helpful. Bledsoe & Baskin (2014) suggest that stress levels go down when students receive regular feedback on their learning and this can be achieved through formative assessment. I wonder if the amount of times students are placed in a testing situation increases their cumulative stress and subsequently their performance.

The last activity in the eCampus Ontario mooc, Module Six – Teacher for Scholar is to propose a plan for a So TL project and here is mine.

The Question: Does test anxiety diminish the benefits of frequent low-stake formative assessment?
How Could This Be Measured?

  • Quantitative study that includes comparing two sections of students taking the same or similar course. One section has frequent formative assessment and the other section does not.
  • Qualitative study that includes student interviews and student surveys regarding their perception of test anxiety, performance and the benefits to formative testing vs. no formative testing

Research Considerations:

Since I would be interviewing students I would complete an application to the Research Ethics Board (REB) at my institution and complete the TCPS 2 online tutorial. There are very strict rules and specific steps required when conducting research involving humans. This is for the protection of students and I would follow this diligently.

I am out of my comfort zone with formal research so I think it would be helpful to include colleagues with formal research experience and expand the sample size of students and disciplines. Porter (2019) suggests that faculty struggle with this part of the module because they go too big. I know, I need to seek out experienced researchers to keep this manageable.

Evidence Required to Convince Others:

External audiences would want to see a large enough sample size to convince them that test anxiety either impacts or does not impact performance with the use of frequent formative assessment.

Other Questions External Audiences May Have:

  • Course Type
  • Year of student study
  • Student self-reports are measured objectively
  • Prior anxiety or “other” mental health implications

Where Would this Information be Shared?

One of the key elements I identified when I first started thinking about So TL is to share the information for feedback. I think this information could be shared via:

  • Annual Program Review (APR)
  • Scholarship Forum held annually
  • E3 workshop, when faculty engage with other faculty to share what they are doing
  • Peer reviewed article

I am not sure that formal research is for me. However, I think my question regarding frequent formal assessment and test anxiety is an important one. At minimum a thorough literature review is required. In a broader context thinking about conducting assessment in different ways is an important element to my teaching practice and one that warrants contemplation.

Photo by Philipp Cordts on Unsplash


Bledsoe, T. S., & Baskin, J. (2014). Recognizing Student Fear: The Elephant in the Classroom. College Teaching, 62(1), 32–41.

Liu, X. L., Liang, P., Li, K., & Reder, L. M. (2014). Uncovering the Neural Mechanisms Underlying Learning from Tests. PLoS ONE, 9(3), 1–7.

Porter, D. (2019). Extend MOOC Behind the Design – Scholar. (T. Greene, Interviewer) Ontario Extend MOOC. Retrieved April 24, 2019, from

Newton, J., & Winches, B. (2018). How Did They Maximize Learning for All of Those Students? Reading Improvement, 55(2), 79–82. Retrieved from

What is So TL and Why is it Important?

The first two activities in the Scholar for Teaching Module of the Ontario Extend mOOC is to think about what the key characteristics are for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (So TL) and what would motivate people to participate.

The Key Elements of So TL that I identified are:

  • Start with questions, inquiry that focuses not only on your teaching but also the student’s learning.
  • Observe your teaching on the student’s learning. What are the results and do they answer your questions?
  • Do something with those observations. Such as rewrite a lesson or an assessment. Make a change based on your observations.
  • Go public. Meaning share the observations to be evaluated by many. I almost see this as a type of feedback. Feedback from students, colleagues or a personal learning community.

Bast (2013) describes So TL as a systemic process in evaluating what happens in the classroom against the syllabus in the same way we would evaluate research against a hypothesis. In my own teaching practice I match assessment against course outcomes. Bast (2013) posits that So TL misses the final step because it does not measure the results against the hypothesis. This makes me think that there is something more meaningful to uncover in the process of measuring learning against the course outcomes.

What I Think Motivates People to Participate in So TL?

  • Better student engagement and outcomes.
  • Renewed faculty excitement about teaching and greater self-awareness.
  • Prevents stagnation.
  • Improved relationships between faculty-faculty, faculty-learner, and learner to faculty.
  • Constant reinvention through reflective practice gives faculty confidence as educators in addition to subject matter expertise.

In a broader sense I think faculty are motivated to be involved in So TL process because improved student engagement and improved outcomes are going to excite everyone involved in the process. This excitement will lead to improved relationships. At a granular level if a faculty member is confident in their ability as an educator and subject matter expert they are going to feel great in their profession. Porter (2019) tells us that mastery as an educator is a process that comes from trying out small things and adjusting as you “climb” towards your goal. I think, continuous reinvention through reflective practice is how we climb.

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Bast,R. (2019). Key Characteristics of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. CELatElon.Retrieved April 25, 2019, from

Porter, D. (2019). Extend MOOC Behind the Design – Scholar. (T. Greene, Interviewer) Ontario Extend MOOC. Retrieved April 24, 2019, from

When the Experiment Blows Up

Have you ever tried ed tech in your classroom and it just blew up? By blew up I mean did not go as planned.

The final activity in the experimenter module for the eCampus Ontario mOOC is to reflect on the activities that we experimented with (in the deep dive) please see my previous blog post at Since, I think I have answered most of the reflection questions (in that post) I am going to focus on an experiment I tried this winter.

This winter I had students in my Communication in Health Care course use Flipgrid to record videos, then respond to each other’s videos and then respond to those responses. To learn more about Flipgrid follow this link

The use of video recorded skits was not new but the technology was. I like video recorded skits because I have a large class and when marking live I sometimes miss things. Video recorded skits allowed introverted, anxious or self-conscious students to record in a comfortable place without an audience. The use of Flipgrid allowed responses to be made in video instead of the traditional typed discussion board.

The problem was my students are super keen (I know this is not really a problem) and a few had chosen to use fancy cameras meaning not their cell-phone camera. I did not know that resolution would be a problem when uploading to Flipgrid. So, on upload day things got a little messy. In the past, I would have said it blew up.

However, this really cool thing happened. @jesslyndw from Teaching and Learning figured out the resolution of the fancy cameras was causing the upload issue. Suddenly, my students were explaining all of the problem solving solutions they had tried. Yes, there was frustration but students persevered and they eventually solved the issue by adding in a reply with a link to their video.

The next interesting thing that I discovered was the relevance of the tech to the course content. Students were able to practice their therapeutic communication techniques such as language choice, non-verbals, and questioning techniques. I was so impressed with the level of engagement and effort that students put into their responses and then to the responses to those responses. Many students told me that the video assignment was when they had their key learning moments. Plus, it was fun to mark.

The reason I think this experiment is relevant to my final reflection of the experimenter module is in the past my fear of the blow up has prevented me from trying ed tech in the classroom. What I have learned through my own exploration and experimentation (in this module) is that I do not need to know the tech perfectly. I just need to be able to create a safe-place where students and faculty can explore the tech together. A place where frustration is allowed and problem solving is encouraged. Bates (2014) suggests that an experimenter supports student learning by trying, reflecting upon and learning new approaches. I think by being willing to learn from experimentation blow ups I can increase my engagement and student’s engagement.

In the future, I plan to spend more time cultivating the safe place of exploration and to consider the student perspective of what is in it for me (WIFM). I will do this by ensuring enough time is built in for problem solving, that I make connections to the problem solving skills (that they are using in the assignment) to their future employment, and that I encourage reflective learning from ed-tech issues. I will do this because the beautiful explosion that takes place when the experiment blows up is really where the learning happens.

Bates, T. (2014, October 1). Online Learning and Distance Education Resources.
eCampus Ontario. (2019). EXTEND 101-EN.1 – Extend MOOC. Module 5: Experimenter.

Deep Dive Through Experimenter

The next activity in eCampus Ontario Experimenter Module Five was to take a deep dive into activities that would take longer to complete and could be incorporated into my teaching practice. I spent time exploring many of the activities but I settled on the following.

Create a Course Trailer.
The examples given in the activity were marketing videos using real people (eCampus Ontario, 2019). I decided to use a short video I had created (for a daily extend) to answer the question what is in it for me (WIFM)? Course trailers are advertisements that tell students why they should be interested in a course. Essentially, it answers the WIFM.

I created this video using the video editor app (that came with my Surface Pro) and Unsplash images I plan to upload this video with my welcome announcement at the beginning of the course. The restriction of using the video editor app is I cannot save or embed the video directly into my free WordPress account. However, I was able to upload the video to Microsoft Stream an Office 365 app. Microsoft Stream works like YouTube but is closed to the organization. Since, my organization offers Office 365 to students and faculty I will be able to share it with my students.

Initially, I had too many words and they could not be read and absorbed in the short amount of time they were displayed. I had to pare down the words and extend the time that words displayed. I had to consider images that take the place of words so that I projected what I wanted to say within the time constraints. The video can be found in this tweet so you be the judge.

Snip Capture Of My Course Trailer

Create Interactive Activities Using H5P.
I know very little about coding but this tool made me feel as if I was coding. H5P states, “create, share and reuse interactive HTML5 content in your browser”. To learn more and create your own account click the link

I wanted to spend time learning this tool because H5p comes with the Pressbooks (EDU) for educators account. As an Ontario educator I have access to a Pressbooks EDU account so that I can create Open Education Resources (OERs) (ecampus Ontario, 2018). The ability to add interactive activities will make reading more engaging for students. It should be noted that H5P can be used in combination with a WordPress account but it requires a paid upgrade.

Please see some Medical Terminology flash cards and fill-in-the blank drag and drop activities that I created in H5P. My hope is to add these to an OER about building a medical language vocabulary in the future.


eCampus Ontario. (2019). EXTEND 101-EN.1 – Extend MOOC. Module 5: Experimenter.
eCampus Ontario. (2018, 11 27). The Gift of Pressbookds EDU Arrives Early for Ontario Educators. Retrieved from

Extend Through Play

Module Five in the Ontario Extend mOOC is Experimenter. In this module we started off by playing. I say playing because daily extends are small stretches that are fun. We were encouraged to complete a minimum of three daily extends in Module Five. Daily extends are short activities that take about 20 minutes and encourage creativity. The assignment instructions stated there were no prizes but suddenly there were tweets regarding the daily leader board. Similar to Yoga were you are participating for your practice (and not competition) but secretly you know you are going to hold the pose longer then the person beside you. Suffice it to say, in the opening week of the module a lot of time was spent completing daily extends.

Listed below are three of my favourite daily extends this module:

Things I learned from the daily extends:

  • I am competitive.
  • To make tweets accessible:
    • describe images in the tweets
    • capitalize each letter in a hashtag
  • Completing a creative activity gets me motivated to learn.
    • This is a key learning I will remember to offer in my own facilitation
  • There is a ton of free stuff I never knew existed such as:
  • Not all creative stretches need to involve a lot of tech. Check out this book mashup.

This image is a book title mashup for #oext56 (We Share Everything, R.Munsch + Powerful Techniques for Teaching Adults, S. Brookfield + Leading Quietly J.L. Badaracco Jr.)

eCampus Ontario. (2019). EXTEND 101-EN.1 – Extend MOOC. Module 5: Experimenter.