Monthly Archives: January 2015

2014: Done

OK, that’s it. Time to sign out of SC200 2014. Time to get on with all that 2015 will bring.

2014-12-14 17.56.55Thanks to TAs Amanda and Brennan for being so available to the students, to the graders for working so hard to give quality individualized feedback to the students on their blog efforts, to tech geek Chris for successfully migrating the blog (old and new) to the new platform, to staff assistant Monica for endless help (and always last minute photocopying), and to the class of 2014 for such a stimulating time. Have a nice life.

Conclusions to conclude

Lessons from 2014 for 2015?

  • The fundamentals are sound
  • The attendance algorithm works
  • Try to figure a way to work some class activities into classroom time. Hard to do for big classes, but evidently it can be done*.
  • Figure out how to stop the whispering in class. It has to stop for so many reasons (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…)*.
  • Obsessively check Angel test settings. Especially for the final exam.
  • Raise blog standards. I think the bar is set about right. Get more students to hit that. Point out to them that it is in fact easier than getting a good test score. I wonder if one way to do it might be to get them to do some peer grading of the first blog period. Show them more examples in class of excellent practice. Grade the first blog period harder.
  • Keep the restriction on making this a course of Freshmen. More impact. Fewer cynical students.
  • Important stress-reduction tip Andrew: do not get on an airplane during semester (1, 2).
  • A perpetual source angst for a small minority of students is the blog grading. Some students try harder in a subsequent blog period but get about the same grade. When I investigate, it is almost always fair. Get the same grader to grade the same students each time? Get the graders in the later blog periods to look at the comments and scores from the earlier periods? Make sure not generosity is going on in the grading of the first period. Try to teach students that hours/effort is not what counts. It’s well directed effort and hours.
  • Do a class project (e.g. test the cell phone hypothesis?).
  • Do a few pop quizzes early on which test run the first parts of the class tests better (general material).
  • More use of phone polls to reinforce material in class, especially early on.
  • Set up a glossary of words – something students can post to so I can see what they can’t understand.
  • Produce a final list of all the key concepts covered for review purposes. Could give this out at the beginning of the year (or put it in the syllabus). It could work as a study guide.
  • Consider pop-quiz like homework. They could hand it in next class for attendance? Could use old exams; make the answers available on Angel etc. This might work for review just before exams.
  • Throw more questions at the audience. Get the mike and show it in people’s faces? Scary stuff for the students, but if gently handled at the beginning, might work.
  • Figure some ways beyond tests and pop quizzes to do hands on learning*.
  • Do a class on Evil.

The plan is try a class of nearly 400 in 2015. This to scale the impact. But to stay sane, I’ll need to do various things.

  • Get a class email account set up – which staff assistant Monica monitors and deals with as much as she can, re-routing as much else to the TAs as possible.
  • Get another three blog graders. Make the most experienced of the six responsible for coordination, and quality control.
  • Get an extra TA to help the students (total three).
  • Get a side-kick or two to run review sessions (one of the graders?). They review sessions are important, but I can’t do twice as many.

*Andrew: well before Fall 2015, ask the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence for suggestions

Being there 2.

Speaking of (or rather writing of) attendance, here’s some visuals of the voluntary review sessions.

The first, after class test 2 (Oct 15):

2014-10-15 18.03.43


After class test 3, Nov 5:

2014-11-05 19.24.10

Nov 10:

2014-11-10 16.59.58

And the biggest ever turnout (shame about the pic), Nov 11:

2014-11-11 16.38.29

I never know what to make of the appallingly low attendances. Those who show say they are very useful.

Being there

Part of me thinks that students are adults and if they don’t want to come to class, that’s up to them. But another part of me thinks that students are kids who need to be helped to help themselves, and a lot say in the feedback they wished they come more…

So, each year I agonize about the best way to make them come to class. This year, I tried a new approach – I tied a whole grade to attendance and only gave them that when they hit seven pop quizzes (I take attendance only at pop quizzes). The pop quizzes come at random so they have to attend a lot of classes to hit seven. I did ten in total.

I didn’t think the system had worked, not least because of the way it looked in class.

2014-10-30 15.16.21

2014-10-30 15.16.32

I took these shots during the pop quiz on October 30. Every seat should be filled….

Turned out 96% of the students who got to the end of the course hit that attendance requirement. And now that I have got down and looked at the actual data from the last four years, this was definitely the best year. Attendance dropped to the mid-60% in the last two pop quizzes (post-Thanksgiving), but in 2013, it dropped to 50%, and in 2013, 2012 and 2011, the attendance sag happened maybe a month earlier.

So unless I can think of a better way of going, I think this algorithm is probably a keeper. I could shift the quizzes later in semester, but I need to do them early on to reinforce class material. Maybe raise the bar to 9 of 12 quizzes so I can do a few more at the end?