Monday, December 20, 2010

Student Feedback

Since I tried a few silly things with my class this semester, I wrote a couple of extra questions on the end-of-the-semester evaluations to get student feedback on them. In particular, I set up homework so that students were to choose which problems to do on an individual basis, and I orchestrated a class project to write our own textbook. Overall, student feedback was not as negative as I had anticipated, which was nice. Of course, only 19 of 39 students completed the evaluation...

Homework feedback was the least negative of the two. Of the 19 responses, 11 said they liked it. Others seemed to think it was ok, but didn't provide enough structure (not unexpectedly). A handful thought it would have been better if they were given some direction of things to focus on (I still don't see, for our class, how there was that much to choose from). One student apparently initially thought they would like the setup, but ended up not. A few flat-out didn't like it. Alas. I still like the basic idea.

The project was a source of frustration for all involved, which is too bad.

I'll begin with some of their feedback. A few students noted that they liked the idea of the project (and the project itself), working together to make something other students might use. And a few said they learned some things (mostly whichever mini project they were on), even if it wasn't related to the course content as listed on the syllabus. Some students found it tedious, and busy work, and would have rathered just do more homework problems (this confuses me, because assigning problems seems like busy work to me). A couple think in-class time to work with groups would have been good, which I can definitely see. And one student's comment, about wanting to see all the work at the end, makes me think another part could be added to the assignment, in which students would present their mini project work at the end of the semester - I think this would be valuable (even if the work is all accessible on the wiki anyway).

And now, my perspective. First off, there was no point in letting this project exist for half of the semester, as almost all of the work seemed to get done on due dates, right up to the minute. Apparently about two weeks probably could have produced the same result.

One of the parts I thought would be best was the "write questions" and then "write answers to classmates questions" parts. This seemed straight-forward enough to me, and the mostly clearly useful for our course content. Questions were due in two blocks, on a couple of Friday evenings. I'd then spend the evening (my life is that exciting!) formatting things so it all looked somewhat uniform, and randomly assigning problems to students. Due dates were such that after a block of questions were written, the answers were due two weeks later. I wanted to have a quick turn-around time from problems being written to problems being assigned, so students could have more time working on well-written answers, as well as working out issues with the questions (poor wording, ambiguity, problems in the wrong sections, etc). Of course, by my previous comment, I really could have spared more time before assigning answers. And I should have, using the time to edit the questions for clarity and content, since apparently students writing answers mostly didn't feel the need to do so (despite it being written as part of the assignment). I'm also concerned that I should have tried harder to see if questions (and, later, answers) were copied from the textbook, early on in the process. And for some reason I expected all of my students to follow the guidelines about how many of which questions (difficulty/content) to write (and write them on time), so that I when I redistributed them, everybody would end up writing the same number of answers. Silly me.

Clearly that part of the project would need to be tweaked (completely dismantled and reassembled) for future use.

The other useful part of the project was the MiniProjects, which students were put into groups for, based on initial project proposals they submitted. This part of the project was intended to involve group meetings about 2-3 weeks before the semester ended so students could show me rough drafts (ideally just little issues remaining). It became clear, the week of these meetings, that only very few of the groups had done anything at all (those that had done things had done well), which was hugely frustrating. Several students came to the meetings hoping I'd tell them what do to do get started, with no ideas of their own. This was weeks after their project proposals and group assignments. Perhaps a few more meetings would have been a good idea.

Anyway, eventually a whole-book pdf was compiled by one of the groups, of all of the sections and pages of questions and answers, and lots of appendices containing the further research found as part of many of the MiniProjects. It comes out to 126 pages, of which I wrote about 35-40. I'd share the book with you, but students at UVA own the intellectual property to their work, and I clearly can't force them to give me their work so I can just post it online for free for anybody, nor would I try. However, I did tell them I'd release all of my base effort under a CC license, and told students that if they wanted to contribute their work similarly, I'd be happy to compile it. I've got signatures from 18 students that I can gather their work up into a bundle, which I fully intend to do in the coming weeks. I'm sure you'll hear more about it, if you're still reading this far into this post.

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