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13. Creating branching questions in CALI Author

How do I create branching questions

Branching questions can be created from questions and from feedback boxes. Examples of the various ways to create branching questions, along with the five question format models for branching that CALI has defined, is also covered in the CALI Lesson "CALI Author Demo Lesson." The DEMO lesson is included as part of the standard download of CALI Author. Here, we'll only address the techniques to create branching questions.

One way to create a branching question is directly from a question. In the feedback box select (3) "Just branch directly to this page:"



By clicking on a particular answer choice in the question, students are immediately directed to another question. This format is useful for a variety of reasons. This style of branching works well with the 'Stick to your response' question model, as it allows you to further instruct and test a student's answer without first revealing your answer. Additionally, it allows you to further explore the student's reasons for selecting a particular choice. Let's suppose Question 1 is a standard multiple-choice question with choices A, B, C, and D. Further suppose the 'Next page' for Question 1 is Question 2, and by selecting choice A the student activates a branching question. Thus, if the student selects B, C, or D, he receives feedback for Question 1, is returned to the text for Question 1, and is then permitted to click on the 'Next' key and move to Question 2. However, if he selects choice A, he receives no feedback and instead branches directly to another question, in our example Question 1-1. In Question 1-1 you could ask a number of different questions depending on which question model you wanted to use. The chart below suggests some of the types of information you could ask in Question 1-1:

Expert mode

Ask harder questions that further challenge the student to think about the material.

Novice mode

Review basics underlying the subject matter.

Stick to your response

Challenge the student's answer. Did he pick the response for the right reason? Is this choice a commonly chosen wrong reason? Ask further questions to explore this.

Fill out Knowledge/ Remedial branch

To fill-out students' knowledge ask questions that allow them to think about the material at a higher plane. Remedial branch questions can review basic material and concepts underlying the subject matter.

When the student has completed the sub-questions you can either link the student to further sub-questions or you can return the student to the main track by linking Question 1-1 to Question 2.

The second way to create a branching question is from the feedback to any given question. This time, in the feedback box, we will select option (2 above) "show feedback then branch to another page." Here, the student will receive feedback to your original question. Only after clicking on the 'continue' button in the feedback box will the student branch to another question. Thus, this branching choice allows you to override the default 'next' page that you have established for this page. This type of branching question is useful if you want to use an "Expert," or Novice" mode of question format. For example, after explaining the student's answer in the feedback box, you can direct the student to specific questions geared toward her level of understanding. The primary difference between branching before and after showing the student feedback is that a branch prior to feedback allows you to drill students about their response before you provide them with the answer. Thus, the reason for using a 'branch directly' vs. a 'show feedback and branch' question rests with you as the instructor and your pedagogical goals and objectives. The branch directly method allows the lesson to engage in a mini-Socratic dialogue with the student.

Using our example above where the question branches directly to another question, let's again suppose Question 1 is a multiple choice question with choices A, B, C, and D. Further suppose the 'Next page' for Question 1 is Question 2, and by selecting choice A, the student activates a branching feedback question. If the student selects B, C, or D, he receives feedback for Question 1, is returned to the text for Question 1, and is then permitted to click on the 'Next' key and move to Question 2. On the other hand, if the student selects choice A, he still receives feedback for choice A; however, he then branches directly to another question, in our example Question 1-1. From Question 1-1 the student can move to other sub-questions or you can return him to the main track by linking Question 1-1 to Question 2.

Here's how to branch from a question. We'll use a standard multiple-choice question as an example, although branching can be done from any of the following question types:

(1)   Standard multiple choice (select one of the choices)

(2)   Draw lines

(3)   Check box and Check box set (for more than one correct answer)

(4)   Radio buttons

(5)   Drag items into boxes/put them in the right order

(6)   Fill-in the blank

(7)   Select the text

After creating the Question Text, and the Question Choices, you can enter the feedback for each Question choice, using the Edit menu on the upper part of the right side of the screen.

Note that to assist you with authoring, CALI Author provides you with the text of the answer choice on the feedback screen.

Here, at the Response Tab, you have the chance to (1) "show feedback for the Question Choice and return to the question," (2) "show feedback then branch to another page," or (3) "branch directly to another page." To branch directly to another page from this question, move the cursor to option (3). Also, to avoid foreshadowing the answer (since CALI Author will color code the choice button according to whether you have set the choice as 'right', 'wrong', 'maybe', or 'information') CALI recommends that you set the feedback as neutral blue 'information' when branching directly to another page to avoid giving any clues to the student. To branch to another page after showing feedback, select option (2). If you designate the choice as yellow (maybe) or blue (information) consider disabling the scoring for this page.

For either type of branching question, when you click on either option (2) or (3) CALI Author will prompt you for the name of the 'Destination page.' Click on the button to the far right to select a page.


From this point, adding a link is exactly like defining the destination of any other link in your lesson. For specific instructions, please refer to the section on 'Destination of links' within the FAQ "How do I create links from specific terms on a page"

A few tips on using branching questions:

(1) Remember to give the branching page a destination back into the loop. That is, if you have branched from Question 5, and Question 6 is your designated 'Next' page, you probably want the 'Next page' from the final page in the branching series to go to Question 6 also. Exceptions to this suggestion would be if you were using the branching question format with the 'Expert' mode question format. There the purpose of the branch is to allow students to skip over several questions. Thus, the final branching question from Question 5 might link to Question 8.(2)Branching questions will not appear in your outline structure but will appear in the mapper. This is because CALI Author's outline feature only shows pages linked from other 'Book pages', not from feedback boxes. 'Book pages' that are the destination pages for branching question will appear in the alphabetical listing of all your pages.(3)Remember to give your original question page (the source of the branching pages) a 'Destination page'. Otherwise, there won't be a 'Next' page from the source page and your Outline, and your lesson, may become corrupted and fail to work properly.(4) When working with branching pages, be careful with your page naming conventions, since the pages will not appear in the outline mode they may be harder to quickly locate should you wish to make any changes to the lesson. For further information abut page-naming conventions, please refer to the FAQ "What should I name my pages?"

Additional Tips and Concerns About Branching Questions

After running several authoring fellowships, CALI's staff has learned that just as there is no one single way to author a lesson, there are many ways to approach authoring branching questions. Among the various authoring styles, we have found some commonalities in the way authors approach writing a branching question, that we believe make the process easier for the author.

The most common problem with creating branching questions is simply that the author gets lost in the complexity of the problem. In many ways, branching questions mirror the discussion we have as faculty in the classroom, with one notable exception. In the classroom, we go down one path until it is complete. Then we strike off on another branch of analysis. In talking with authors, we have found that they often try to simultaneously move down several branches at once when authoring a lesson. This is unnecessarily difficult. Thus, CALI would advise that you author one branch at a time.

What authors have also found to be most efficient when creating branching questions is to first write the core series of questions. Suppose you have “Question 1” followed by “Question 2” and then “Question 3”. Each question builds on the same hypothetical and perhaps each question builds on students’ understanding the reasoning of the previous question.

The easiest way to do this is to write the questions and write the correct answer. Then look at the question and consider what is a “good” bad answer. By this we mean, what is a logical mistake that students make when answering this question. You can draw upon years of “close but not quite right” answers you’ve heard in class, and the ”surprising response” you got on an exam for this issue.

After you have written the core questions, right answers and perhaps a couple of the wrong answers you’re ready to write the branching questions. Suppose that a common wrong answer from students derives from a misunderstanding of a term. Or perhaps students confuse related concepts. Either of these places would be a good location for a branching question. Build a question off the wrong choice and its feedback.

Writing branching questions from wrong answers is one popular way to create branching questions. A second style of branching question requires students to explain or defend their choice. In this type of branching question the student may or may not have selected the right choice in the first question. The branching question asks the student why he chose that answer. This branching question style minimizes guessing. After one or two questions like this in a lesson, students tend to stop guessing, as the “penalty” for guessing (having to justify their response) is too inconvenient. This branching style also allows you to explore the specific reason the student got the question right or wrong. For example, your experience may have shown there are two common misconceptions about the issue covered in your initial question. A follow-up question that requires the student to defend his answer allows you to ascertain which bad choice he made and walk the student through the correct analysis, geared to that particular choice and not a general analysis of all possible wrong choices. This particular question type creates a very student-centered learning experience.

Are there any dangers to branching questions? Yes. The biggest "danger" to writing lessons with branching questions is the assumption that students will follow a certain path through the lesson. They may not. Thus, authors need to be aware of continuity issues in lessons. In CALI parlance we refer to this as Problem of Sir Kevin and his Wet Tunic. This problem is common in gaming programs, interactive stories, and CALI lessons due to their non-linear nature. For example, suppose Sir Kevin approaches the castle. He has two choices. Choice 1 - He can swim across the moat, climb in a window and then enter the mead hall. Choice 2 - Sir Kevin can climb a tree and enter the mead hall through an open turret window. In the first scenario Sir Kevin gets wet. He swam in a moat after all. In the second example he stays dry. If upon entering the mead hall the Good Knight Kip says to him “Sir Kevin, your tunic – it’s wet!!” Well, Sir Kevin had better have swum the moat, or we have a continuity problem.

For our lessons, this translates to remembering that students may not have taken a specific branch. Thus, authors can’t assume students have knowledge from another part of the lesson if that knowledge came from a branching section. For example, you can’t refer to a fact pattern in a branching question and assume all the students saw that fact. A solution can be to include the material in a popup. A good way to double check this is to follow each path in the lesson to ensure the student is receiving the needed material to make the proper analysis.