Monday, April 28, 2008

Teaching: More utility the second time around

After submitting my final grades, I feel a bit of a loss. I am sad it's over. Although I have failed to understand Generation "Why (am I failing?)", I have made some (perhaps not so new to anyone that teaches) discoveries.

1- The second time around is easier, but not how you think ... In a word: confidence. I no longer worry about making mistakes on the board (although it does happen). The classroom is welcoming. It seems my perception of risk is lower because I understand the nature of supply (the content) and demand (what students need) better.

2- Students appreciate win-falls and they respond to incentives (I know, not surprising, we all do). When I offered to re-weight their grades after their rather poor performance on the first midterm, they were happy because their expected outcome (their final grade) was revised upwards. It seemed they quickly priced-in the rewards of working harder. Because the class content was cumulative (Chapter 10 requires knowledge of Chapters 1-9) I was able to do this. Although it is possible that a few students would actual decrease the level of effort because it would be easier to reach their targeted grade, I felt that this "Do better, I will re-weight" approach was appreciated and useful for motivation ("You can turn this around!"). In fact, a number of students earned 20% better on the final than the first exam.

3- Why didn't more students "turn-it-around"? Clearly ability and effort play an important role, but is there something else? Most times students write papers or exams with little or no consultation afterwards. This semester I asked all failing students to speak with me about how they studied and what they were going to do differently for the second midterm and final. Although students were reluctant to meet, they were general appreciative when we did because they were shown where they went wrong and I made suggestions on how to study for the next exam. On the downside, these types of demand performances are time consuming and may negatively affect my evaluations.

4- Should we teach how to study during class? Over the past few months I started saying things like: "On page 458, the author says '...', this is an excellent summary." or "If you don't understand how we derived this result, please don't let it go: talk to me or the TA". Because I get very few questions in class and no one seems to use office hours, perhaps providing detailed study hints during class may yield good results.

5- Because I was more relaxed I could be more over the top and enjoy their reaction. I played for them the sub-prime mortgage blues!

Teaching: loved it.