Identifying Student Misunderstandings using Constructed Responses

Kristin Stephens-Martinez, Armando Fox and John DeNero

In contrast to multiple-choice or selected response questions, constructed response questions can result in a wide variety of incorrect responses. However, constructed responses are richer in information. We propose a technique for using each student’s constructed responses in order to identify a subset of their stable conceptual misunderstandings. Our approach is designed for courses with so many students that it is infeasible to interpret every distinct wrong answer manually. Instead, we label only the most frequent wrong answers with the misunderstandings that they indicate, then predict the misunderstandings associated with other wrong answers using statistical co-occurrence patterns. This tiered approach leverages a small amount of human labeling effort to seed an automated procedure that identifies misunderstandings in students. Our approach involves much less effort than inspecting all answers, substantially outperforms a baseline that does not take advantage of co-occurrence statistics, proves robust to different course sizes, and generalizes effectively across student cohorts.