13 December 2008

Designing Assessment To Support Students' Learning

It has been reported that the single most power influence for student achievement is feedback (Hattie, 1987; Black & William, 1998). But it is not just any plain ol' feedback. Informative, timely, concise feedback from the instructors, and feedback which the students actually read and follow up on, are what really count. As such, conducting assessment and providing feedback is an art. Assessment can be enormously expensive, and can be perceived as ineffective and a poor representation of student learning. Gibbs and Simpson (2005) come up with a list of 10 plausible conditions under which assessment supports learning.
  1. Sufficient assessed tasks are provided for students to capture sufficient study time.
  2. These tasks are engaged with by students, orienting them to allocate appropriate amounts of time and effort to the most important aspects of the course.
  3. Tackling the assessed task engages students in productive learning activity of an appropriate kind.
  4. Sufficient feedback is provided, both often enough and in enough detail.
  5. The feedback focuses on students' performance, on their learning and on actions under the students' control, rather than on the students themselves and on their characteristics.
  6. The feedback is timely in that it is received by students while it still matters to them and in time for them to pay attention to further learning or receive further assistance.
  7. Feedback is appropriate to the purposes of the assignment and to its criteria for success.
  8. Feedback is appropriate, in relation to students' understanding of what they are supposed to be doing.
  9. Feedback is received and attended to.
  10. Feedback is acted upon by the student.

Hatte, J.A. (1987). Identifying the salient facets of a model of student learning: a synthesis of meta-analyses, International Journal of Educational Research, vol. 11, pp. 187-212.

Black, P. & William, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning, Assessment in Education, vol. 5, no. 1, pp 7-74.

Gibbs, G. & Simpson, C. (2005). Conditions Under Which Assessment Supports Students' Learning, Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, Issue 1, pp. 3 - 31.

08 December 2008

Class Observations

I recently had the opportunities to visit a number of CS classes both domestically and internationally. Here are some observations from these visits that I really like. I will keep adding to this list as I come across other gems!

  • Use analogies to explain difficult concepts ... e.g. passing of a hockey puck as an analogy to passing parameters, recipe as an analogy to algorithm, etc. 
  • Even in a big lecture, try to learn the names of at least some students.  One easy way is to get to know those who ask questions in class.  All of us like to be known!
  • When students ask what-if questions about programming languages, (e.g. what if you divide a integer number with a real number), instead of just giving them the answer, do a quick demo on the computer (if you have one set up).  This instills a culture of learning via experimentation.
  • Repeatedly ask the students if there are any questions throughout the entire lecture, and PAUSE. Students may not ask questions right away, but they know that the instructor is encouraging any questions they may have.
  • Instead of asking “Any Questions”, try “Who is comfortable with the material presented so far?” and take a poll. The poll can be done via either clicker or raising of hands.
  • Show Learning Goals at the beginning of class, show Learning Goals before each learning unit, show Learning Goals for each learning activity, show Learning Goals at the end of the class. The Learning Goals should reference back to the Learning Goals as stated on the course outline.
  • Great teachers are usually experts in what they teach. They know the subject well ... very well!
  • Students like a variety of presentation styles .. try video, simulation, debate, demonstration (such as having the instructor develop a piece of code live, or work through a problem after a number of unsuccessful attempts.) Students like to see the process of solving a problem rather than just the solution.

07 December 2008

Clicker Use in Computer Science Education

There have been a number of reports on the effective use of Clickers (or Classroom Response System, or Student Response System, or Classroom Communication System, or many other names) across different disciplines. The general comments have consistently been:

  • increased attendance
  • greater involvement (especially when good questions are asked)
  • more interactions with instructor
  • more interactions among students (especially when peer discussions are used before or after each clicker question)
  • anonymity increases participation rate
  • students like immediate feedback on their learning

While there are a number of websites related to clicker questions in physics, mathematics, biology, etc., there does not seem to be any for computer science. In any case, I found this website at Vanderbilt particular useful. The Bibliography section contains a number of links to the use of clickers in a number of disciplines, including Computer Science.