Analysis of the Meta Activities – 2

Over the last several postings, I have been analyzing my students’ participation in the meta activities I developed for my principles courses last year. The majority of the students did not buy into the meta activities. I find that distressing. I believe strongly that completing those activities would have enhanced student learning and final grades in the course. (I am in the process of testing this hypothesis statistically, so for now, my belief is based on theory.)

Suppose I had presented my students with a choice:

Study as you normally do and learn enough for the exams to get your normal grades, then forget what you learned, or

Study as you normally do, but then spend one additional hour a week completing a specific assignment which would allow you to learn deeply and get better grades.

Which would they have chosen?

This was the way I viewed the meta activities. To me, the choice was a no-brainer. Yet, while I never framed the question as I have here, my students overwhelming chose option 1. If I accept their reasons as truthful, they seem to be saying that one hour a week additional study for my course isn’t worth the additional learning and better grade. Could it be that they don’t believe in the outcome, that the weekly hour cost is a certainty, but the additional learning and grade are only a possibility? One thing seems clear: their responses seem to reflect Nathan‘s finding that students avoid work which is “not required”. An obvious solution might be to make them required, but that violate one of the premises of this experiment: that teaching students to learn like experts rather than novices would enhance their learning. The meta activities were supposed to be examples of regular formative assessment. Can formative assessment be required?

To try to understand this choice a bit more, I surveyed my first year advisees, asking them the question above. [Note that this was not a random sample; rather it was the first years who showed up for the last advising meeting of the year (in April), about half my group.] Here are their responses (italics added):

* I would pick the magical one hour exercises 99% of the time. The remaining 1% represents times when I has so much to do outside of school that no school work would get done.

* I would choose Option 2 only if I had a genuine interest in the material. A class like … anthropology would not get the hour. A class like … say… economics would get the hour.

* I would use the hour choice for important information that I know I will need in the future. Some things that are taught don’t seem as important to ingrain for life so just learning them for a test would be sufficient. It depends on the class and the specific course material. Also if I know I would be super studying for an exam, the opportunity cost would lead to that one hour a week.

* Option Two, mainly because I don’t really know how to study so if you told me something that was “guaranteed” and only took an hour I would definitely do it. However, if I didn’t notice enough of a difference I most likely wouldn’t do it, at least not all the time because I’m really busy and pretty lazy. However, if this had been for macro I would have definitely done it! (N.B. She took macro with a different instructor than me.)

* I would try to do the assignments to see if it actually worked and helped cut down on study time. After participating and seeing it works I would continue. If there is no change I would probably stop trying. I just want to be sure it is worth the time invested.

* I think it depends on how much other work there is for the class. If I was getting all the regular work done I would do the extra assignment.

* If I have one hour, same time every week to do the exercise, then sure I would do it. If I couldn’t get it into a regular schedule and my grade would be just as high as without it, then I probably wouldn’t go all out to fit it in my schedule.

* I’d probably do the 1-hr exercise assuming I wasn’t strapped for time. In other words, if I felt motivated enough to do it, I would. If not, no.

* I’d try to do one hour/week… in most circumstances–but realistically I probably wouldn’t.

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