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The first two homeworks September 17, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, teaching.
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I’m almost done grading the first two homeworks for my classes, and I think the results were rather interesting.

The first homework consisted of reviewing the learning styles quiz.  I wanted the students to reflect on their results and discuss whether they thought their results were valid.  Further, I wanted them to discuss where they anticipated difficulties in school and what things they could do in those situations.  All of these were things I went over in class.

My first surprise was that a significant number of students did not address the questions they were supposed to answer, leaving their essays feeling…empty.  I think I need to be more clear that they need to answer all the questions, but I also think I need to provide a rubric so that they have a better understanding of what I’m looking for.

A number of the students felt they had gained no new information from the quiz.  A couple obviously didn’t understand what their results meant.  I was impressed, however, reading the essays where the students disagreed with the quizzes.  It seemed like those students were the ones who put the most thought into it, saying that perhaps the results applied in some situations but not others.  They usually were able to identify when they felt the results were valid.  I feel like those students really got the point of the exercise: they were supposed to think about how they learn, and they were able to analyze various situations and how their preferences interacted with the environment.

The second exercise had a more positive reception.  The students were supposed to attempt to take notes using two different methods covered in class.  There were five methods, one of which was to tape record the lecture.  The other four were written, although I’ll probably explain them in another post.

Most of the students felt it was useful to attempt to take notes different ways.  They did a nice job comparing and contrasting their experiences and feelings about the process, and very few failed to fulfill the requirements for this assignment.  I have to admit that my heart sank a little every time a student said something like, “I like to these types of notes because I don’t have to think about what I’m writing.”  Those are the students who I worry about.  However, a number of them said they learned something new.  A few said they liked their new notetaking method better while others said they might borrow one or two concepts to incorporate into their notetaking skills, even though they aren’t planning on changing their method a whole lot.

I have to admit that I found certain types of notes easier to read.  (I required them to hand in copies of their attempts.)  It does make me wonder how I can look at some of these notes and think they are far more clear, while the person writing them does not.  The primary issue is that I need to figure out a way to make them not feel guilty for using ‘too much paper’.  Some of these other notetaking methods require more paper than traditional notes because they use white space to organize things.  So many students seemed to think that using paper was a bad thing.  I need to make it clear that using paper to take useless notes is more wasteful than using more paper to take notes that are easier to study and comprehend.

Another issue I ran into is that several of the professors of freshman level classes provide their notes in powerpoints.  My experience is that upper-level classes will be significantly different.  I accepted writing on printed out slides as a possible notetaking method, but I found the evaluation of that to be very unsatisfactory.  Further, I think these students will not have the benefit of experiencing the other types of methods once they don’t have those slides available.  So I’m going to pretend those aren’t an option next semester.

We discussed people’s thoughts in class because I had students use only 2 of the four types.  I wanted students to get a feeling for the other types of notes.  I think that in future classes, I’m going to require they try the three non-traditional written methods themselves.  First, one of the methods the students tried was almost always traditional notes.  Not too many were willing to venture out of their shell and try two new types.  I think this limited their perspective because they were always comparing their new method against traditional notes, and they most often focused on how awkward it was to take notes differently.  Further, when we discussed things in class, only a limited number of students tried each of the new methods.  This reduced discussion to just a couple people, in some cases, and those students couldn’t provide a lot of different perspectives on the benefits and difficulties of the other methods.

I’m requiring my students to evaluate their learning so that they can become self-regulated learners.  I guess I’m trying to do the same thing with my teaching.  In that vein, I’ve concluded that my first assignment needs more clear guidelines.  I think I need to spell things out for the students.  Some students can do a good job with minimal instruction, but some really falter, so I need to be more clear for those students.  Some of the students didn’t seem to think the information was relevant, so perhaps getting specific about what they need to think about will help them understand the relevance more.

For the note-taking assignment, I think they’d benefit from getting more experience trying new things, so I’m going to change the scope of the assignment and have them try the three non-traditional note-taking methods.  Hopefully this will give them something to compare to…and fewer will go the route of not wanting to think about what they’re writing.

Finally, I have to say that this is giving me new insight into how students approach their classes.  I was a student who really didn’t think about how I learned and never had formal instruction in studying and how to learn.  I didn’t learn about a lot of these things until I had to face problems with my children’s learning.  Realizing how few of them have thought about it is probably going to make me think a lot harder about how to present technical information in the future.  I hope I’m able to make things more clear and understandable for my students.

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