As the term wraps…

1 May

It’s the last week of classes here at the University of Minnesota, home to the Techniques in Learning and Teaching blog – likely it’s near the end of the term for readers of the blog beyond this campus as well.  Given the “as the term wraps” timing, this post is going to be short and, hopefully, timely.  So, three brief bits today – on exams, on feedback and on thanks.

Creating Exams – Now Is the Time to…
August 29, 2011
As a resource: the section on “Allaying Students’ Anxieties about Tests” is especially timely for final exam contexts.

And I’ll add this note, based on research conducted by the UK’s National Union of Students that is reflective of findings also reported in the US.  Analysis of student comments points to two main requests, if you will, from students:  knowing how exams will be rated, reviewed, scored; and having some feedback on the assessment. As the 2010 NUS report sums this up: “Feedback on assessment plays a crucial role in a student’s learning, self-esteem and future development.” Even at the end of the term.

So, what to do?  Drawing on Barbara Gross Davis in that August post on Creating Exams, one important component of exam preparation is transparency about the exam, for example, in terms of format, scoring and ways to study –

  • format (types of questions students can expect but also types of answering you’ll expect),
  • scoring (criterion referenced, then what are key characteristics you’ll be looking for in distinguishing A from B from C from failing work; curved or norm referenced? graded by a team, an individual, a mix of human and machine scoring, machine only scoring?),
  • studying (how would you go about studying for the exam – do you link particular course outcomes to the final exam? do specific readings and class sessions map onto those outcomes and, hence, onto the exam?  remember here, you’re the expert on not just how the field is conceptually organized, but alson on how the course works conceptually – passing this along is part of the academic socialization and teaching role).

Students do benefit from – and large numbers actually do look back on – feedback on final exams.  Just don’t expect them to come to your office to pick up the feedback. With Google Documents, self-addressed stamped envelopes, and email as resources, then directed, tailored, select feedback is possible – even efficient for teachers and effective for future student learning.  A whole-class email or podcast that addresses what made for successful and unsuccessful responses to essay questions, or that sets out what you see as course content students have “mastered” and those bits that need continued attention as reflected in their short answer or multiple choice tests.  End comments on a Google or paper document can address 1-3 questions you’ve asked the students compose so they point to places where – and say why – they want feedback – if they ask questions, they will look to the feedback.  Supplement these sorts of short responses with one or two key “for future reference” resources you’d recommend to those students either carrying on in your major or continuing to be engaged with the subject of study in their person or community lives.

What Works, What Could Work Better – Course Assessment October 10, 2011
As a resource: the section on “The Two Minute Writing Format” is also a useful year-end assessment tool.

And I’ll add a note here about how to learn more from students completing the UMinn-specific Student Ratings of Teaching forms, with these Likert scale six questions:

  1. The instructor was well prepared for class.
  2. The instructor presented the subject matter clearly.
  3. The instructor provided feedback intended to improve my course performance.
  4. The instructor treated me with respect.
  5. I have a deeper understanding of the subject matter as a result of this course.
  6. My interest in the subject matter was stimulated by this course.

The note – quite simply, actively use the “Additional Comments” space by asking students to include in their comments. Some ideas for questions to follow up a couple of those e six Likert-scale items in order to gather qualitative feedback that can help provide contextual information for the quantitative data:

  • What type of feedback helped you to improve in the course?
  • What three things have you come to understand about ____ at the end of the course that you didn’t know about or understand at the start of the course?
  • In what ways has the instructor’s organization of in class time helped you to learn in the course?
  • What have you and your classmates done to maintain a respectful classroom atmosphere?  What actions has your instructor taken to help establish and maintain respect in the classroom?
  • What is something related to the course topic that you’ll continue to learn about beyond this course – perhaps that you’ve already worked independently to learn more about while taking the course?

In asking open-ended questions and proactively using the Additional Comments section, teachers signal that they want to learn more from students currently enrolled in the course.  In part, the learning more helps us to consider emendations to the course next time it is offered; additionally, we come to learn a bit more about how students that term “read” particular questions – What they have in mind when they encounter the words respect and feedback, as well as what they point to as interesting topics and helpful ways of learning.

Looking Back and Moving Forward by Saying Thank You

To you as readers during this first year of blogging here at the Center for Teaching and Learning.  We love seeing that you’re reading, and we look forward to continuing to write and to interact with you all.  The blog will continue its weekly posts in May and June, then move to a twice-monthly format in July and August as we prepare for the coming academic year (and do a fair amount of teaching during the summer).

As a last bit here, I’d like to encourage all of us as teachers to say Thank You to the students who prompt us to think more, to find new ways to present ideas, and who – admittedly – sometime earn our thanks for illuminating the difficulties along the way.  For more about this, see “Have You Told them Thanks Yet? from Blogging through the Fourth Dimension. 

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