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UZH News

Innovative Teaching Projects – Part 3: Engaging

From Learners to Co-Creators

Teaching staff at UZH are developing an online tool that prompts students to come up with possible exam questions based on their teaching materials. This helps students consolidate what they have learned and also supports teaching staff in creating their exams.
Text Stéphanie Hegelbach, Translation Philip Isler
Helping to shape teaching brings lasting knowledge and is fun. (Picture: Dan Cermac)

Midnight is fast approaching, and Belinda’s exam is in the morning. She’s still struggling to wrap her head around polymorphism in programming. Perhaps leaving her exam prep to the day before the exam wasn’t the best idea?

The challenge

“We’re seeing more and more students prepare for their exams at very short notice,” says Harald Gall, professor of informatics and dean of the Faculty of Business, Economics and Informatics (WWF). “But this only results in modest short-term learning success and only rarely leads to a deeper understanding and long-term knowledge.” And yet, it is precisely this type of knowledge deeply rooted in our long-term memory that underpins our ability to think laterally and critically in a given field.

Studies show that learners are better able to link up new insights if they use them regularly and translate them into different formats. But how can instructors motivate their students to engage with teaching materials in an ongoing and effective way? And how can this be achieved in the classroom?

Crowdsourced e-learning

Harald Gall set out to tackle these questions together with postdoc Carol Alexandru. Getting students actively involved can be a challenge, especially in large lectures at the Bachelor’s level. In cooperation with the digital exams and teaching team at the dean’s office and the Department of Informatics, the two researchers have developed a concept that stops two mouths with one morsel, so to speak. Their Crowdsourced Durable E-Learning Tool regularly prompts students to develop possible questions for exercises or exams for the material taught in a course. These questions are then collected and assessed, providing teaching staff with a source of ideas with which to develop practice materials, self-tests and even exams. With the arrival of ChatGPT and open-book online exams, creating good exams has become very time-consuming. “To prevent cheating, you often need 10 different versions of the same question,” says Alexandru. “The pool of questions that we are building with the help of our students is a great help.”


The interactive teaching tool that Alexandru is currently developing will be available on the OLAT learning platform. As part of regular weekly tasks, it will ask students to come up with and submit exam questions on the subject they have just covered. Once these potential exam questions have been submitted, the teaching tool will assign 10 of them to the other students on the course, who answer and assess them based on a set of predefined criteria such as quality, difficulty or time required. Machine learning algorithms then filter out similar questions and help correct mistakes.

This gives teaching assistants and instructors a small but high-quality pool of questions that they can use for creating preliminary exams, final exams or new exercises. In other words, this multi-step process whittles down the best questions from a sea of potential exam questions, which teaching staff can then review and use.

Over time, a pool of quality questions will grow – which will benefit instructors and learners alike. The weekly tasks not only help students consolidate what they have learned but also enable them to put together practice tests – in a matter of seconds, even – from a set of questions that they can use to prepare for their exam. The tool will also make it easier for teaching staff to handle repeat examinations and entrance tests for new Master’s students. The vast number of easy-to-generate test variations might also one day make it possible for exams to be held asynchronously and allow students to sit exams in an exam center once they feel they’re sufficiently well prepared.

Our teaching community

Getting students so closely involved in the teaching side of things has several advantages. It motivates them to prepare better for their exams, and to start doing so at an earlier stage. “To be able to develop good questions and get bonus points, learners need to have already read up on the subject and understood the concepts,” says Harald Gall. But this innovative approach also fosters transparency around exams, allowing students to feel more confident and capable of achieving better results.

Other faculties at UZH have also shown an interest in the e-learning tool. It is being tested as part of a pilot project in a number of courses at UZH in 2024 and will be available to teaching staff on OLAT from 2025. Although the courses taught at UZH’s faculties differ in content, the learning methods used are often the same. This allows for methodological teaching tools to be used in a variety of subjects and act as true bridge-builders: “They promote communication and exchange across disciplines,” says Alexandru.

Find out more here about the 'Future of Teaching at UZH' initiative.