Sunday, February 24, 2008

Teaching Update: New feedback, new inputs, the same output.

I am now two months into my second teaching experience. I am teaching the same second year macroeconomics class and I have a few more students this time. In response to the students feedback I received last winter, I entered the term enthusiastic! I thought I could motivate my students by delivering better lectures and by creating an new evaluation structure that will motivate them to work harder. To improve classroom attendance, and to provide more frequent feedback (to them and me), I have added 10 in class mini-tests (1% of their final mark for each); they don't get a mark for answering correctly, just for attempting the question. This is like giving points for attendance, but it forces them to think, write, and it gives me insight into their learning. I provide each student an exam booklet to answer the questions, I provide the answers in class, and provide them with specific feedback in their booklets. The costs: 33 exam booklets, 100 classroom minutes (10 minutes per question), and 20 hours of marking (~2 hours each). The Benefits: much harder to measure, but higher midterm marks would be a good start.

After the first five tests and one midterm exam, my experiment has failed to produce the desired results: midterm scores remain very low and attendance is only marginally higher. Why the unexpected result?

(1) With respect to attendance, I guess I was over optimistic with respect to the size of the carrot: 1% per in class test is not big enough to get people to come. (2) The feedback has not provided a strong enough signal to students about their comprehension. Because I do not penalize them for an incorrect answer, I can only assess that they pay little or no attention to the outcome and place little weight on the signal. Now, I know that we can "lead a horse to water, but can't make it drink", but I believe that there must be some incentive structure that will motivate these students to study.

In the short-term, I am going to ask more difficult questions in class and grade them as if it was a test. Because it would be unfair to revise the evaluation method at this point, I can only try to increase the signal that tells them that they are "on track" or that they have "fallen off the train". The next exam is in a few weeks, and I hope to see a strong performance. I remain optimistic.

I hope to use the reading week to research more on "Generation Y" to educate myself more about how to reach today's university students. I will report back with my findings.

Appendix: An Incentive Structure that Works?
After several conversations with the faculty member teaching the same class, we agreed that in class tests based on the textbook assignments or randomly marking one of the assignment question might be the way to go. It is a work in progress. Comments/suggestions welcome.


Spudman said...

New research in the psychomechanics of learning show that frequent quiz-style tests increase recall. For that reason alone, don't give up.

Janet's blog said...

I teach Economics at a Tertiary Institution in NZ and I once tried a tutorial system where I gave them a tutorial the week prior to that event and allocated 0.5% to it. In all there were ten tutorials (so 5%) which was part of their final mark. They then handed in their tutorial and I gave written feedback and also model answers. The ones that really got into it did gain an easy 5% and certainly it assisted them get better grades. Some didn't and so forfeited the easy 5% which did seem to be the difference between passing and failing for a small number of students. It was a lot of marking each week but I think assisted with extra personal feedback and was a motivating factor for many.
I'm not sure what the answer is. I am on a mission at the moment after teaching Economics at various schools and my present tertiary posting(in total for 30 years) to find out how to improve my teaching and raise the grades in the subject. If you have any more great ideas I would love to hear. Thanks for sharing your ideas and keep up the great work.