Second Week: Some Backsliding, But More Progress

For some reason, I felt the need to lecture on Monday. Most of the material was in the textbook, but it wasn’t presented in the same framework and I thought it was important to do it my way. Afterwards, though I felt uncomfortable. It was so easy to lecture. I went back and reviewed my “rules of engagement” and concluded that I had not followed them.

Wednesday and Friday were much better. I commented briefly on a few points, but then used two articles from the Washington Post to illustrate the relevant concepts. We had a fruitful discussion on the articles, instead of my lecturing on the content.

Friday, we spent a lot of time on meta stuff. This week I received a number of interactive quizzes that my students had taken on line, from slightly less than 1/2 of the students for the first class and slightly less than 1/4 for the second. Why so few? Today was the last day we were going to spend on this material. Also, the results were bimodal; some people did quite well, while the rest did really badly. Since I expected that students would take the quizzes immediately after completing the chapters, and since there was no grade at stake, there should be no pressure, so I thought all the students would do quite well on the quizzes.

To try to sort this out, I gave the class a low tech poll (paper with no signatures) and asked the following:

Question 1. How many chapters have you read?
Question 2. If you haven’t done any quizzes, did you at least read the chapters?
Question 3. If you did poorly on a quiz, what if anything do you plan to do about that?

The results were, I thought, pretty good. The average number of chapters read was 2.7 out of 3. Several students said they’d forgotten about the quizzes. Several more who added the course late said they didn’t know about them. Five students indicated that they were confused by the wording of the questions. This is not an unusual criticism of economics exams, but it may also be a form of denial. Other comments included:

* I can answer the vocab but the application questions are harder.
* I used the quiz to test my post-reading knowledge before I went back and did the notes.
* On the quiz where I got 50% I only skimmed the chapter, so I’ll probably read it again.

This last was a fairly common theme: More than a few students indicated that their scores suggested they needed to read more carefully and/or review the material. What struck me most was that if I was teaching my traditional way, those students wouldn’t have had this revelation until after the first mid-term exam.

For the last half of the session, I had the students work in groups working on the first abstract meta exercise. The exercise asks them to identify, explain and apply the major concepts, institutional facts and findings, and theories we explored in the syllabus topic we completed today. A more detailed explanation of the exercise is available here.

What the students put together was fairly shallow, which isn’t surprising given the short time they had to work on it. At the end of the period I debriefed the class, explaining in more detail what I was looking for. (For example, what makes this a major concept? What is an example of how you could correctly use the concept?)

One student came by my office later and thanked me, saying she hadn’t really understood what I was looking for before, but did now. They have until next Friday to complete and submit their own copy of the exercise. This felt like a success to me, at least relative to where I started the week.

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2 Responses to Second Week: Some Backsliding, But More Progress

  1. Pingback: Gardner Writes » Blog Archive » Steve’s Experiment Continues

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