Tag Archives: Classroom

Grade Forecasting: Can a “Reality Check” Motivate Students?

“Optimism is generally a good thing, but it can sometimes interfere with learning,” states Dr. Michael J. Armstrong in his submission to Teaching Professor, February 2015, in which he outlines his grade forecasting strategy for students.[i]

Dr. Armstrong, an associate professor in Brock University’s Goodman School of Business, provides students with an opportunity to predict their final course grade (using test scores early in term and linear regression). This process addresses students’ tendency to be “overly optimistic about their learning process and anticipated course grades,”[ii] encourages a proactive approach (to increase study times or seek support, if needed) and, ideally, improves students’ ability to forecast and self-assess.

Optimism . . .

“can hinder their academic success. There’s no reason to adjust their behavior (say, by studying more) if they believe they are already doing well.”

Dr. Michael J Armstrong, Associate Professor
Goodman School of Business, Brock University

 As a student support provider, I am interested in Armstrong’s strategy as well as his research showing that “weaker students [are] more likely to overestimate how well they are doing in the course”.[iv]   Armstrong’s survey results present an interesting picture of student motivation and behaviour and invite further study:

 “As for the impact of these grade forecasts, 31 percent of the respondents said the forecasting experience made them feel more positive or confident about their course progress, while 35 percent said they felt more negative or worried. Fifty-six percent said their motivation had increased, while 7 percent said it had decreased. Forty-seven percent said they were subsequently studying more than they had previously planned, while 3 percent said they were studying less.”[v]

 These findings illustrate the complexity behind student behaviour. Discovering that they may get a lower grade than expected doesn’t always motivate students to be proactive (e.g., to study more). However, one student commented that “after seeing his forecast, he worked harder to “beat the number,” and was very pleased when he did.”[vi]

screen shot forecasting tool

Student View of Forecasting Spreadsheet

Above is a screen shot of the spreadsheet available to students to forecast their grade. Students fill in their term marks (in red) and the forecast is calculated automatically. My initial reactions to the tool? It’s easy to use and understand. Honestly, I was excited. However, I was also a little shocked and remember saying, “Well, that’s blunt.”

I’ve been thinking about students reactions to the tool: how some are motivated to “beat” the score and how some become anxious or less motivated. I believe that this response relates to students’ confidence and sense of agency. Students with low self-confidence and sense of control may accept the grade as a “done deal,” much like someone might read and accept their horoscope. Other students with higher self-confidence and sense of control may accept their “reading” as a challenge and take steps to improve. Why? . . . perhaps because they believe that they can “do something about it”.

This snapshot of student behaviour relates to my previous blog, 6 Reasons for Student “Apathy,” in which I explore the reasons why many students don’t take advantage of student support services.

Reason #3

Self-Concept and Confidence: Students often make closed statements about their “abilities”, saying “This is how I write” or “I can’t do math” or “I am a 60s student”.  If I don’t believe that I can do better, why would I assess and revise my current strategies? Why would I invest more time and energy?

During an academic-zone.com webinar last month, Tricia from Conestoga College added to my list of reasons why students aren’t taking advantage of what’s available: because students often don’t know what they don’t know.

 So, is the forecasting tool harmful? Will many students crawl back into bed and say why bother?

Overall, I feel that the tool is a fantastic resource to increase students’ awareness—a necessary step for students to become more empowered in the learning process. I also feel that providing students with strategies to improve and information on available services is key. Online resources work well because they can be available at that “Oh oh, I’m in trouble” moment. This was definitely a consideration when our Learning Services team developed Academic-Zone modules to complement our in-person support and offer on-line support 24/7/365.

 I’m also thinking about student control.

 I know the challenge of helping struggling students realize that they have the power to change their behaviour and, consequently, their future. One-on-one, I help students reflect on their past and help them see the role of their choices and actions in the process. I have witnessed their surprise and, as a result,  their excitement and motivation to persist. Is there a way to facilitate this reflective process with the forecasting tool?

I wonder . . .

For more information on Armstrong’s work:

YouTube video describing the application of grade forecasting in a course

YouTube video describing the results of the research study

3c94c98Margaret Groombridge, MEd, BEd, BA, OCT
Lead Designer, Academic-Zone
Coordinator Learning Skills Instruction
A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

[i] Armstrong, M. J. (2015). A grade forecasting strategy for students. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/educational-assessment/grade-forecasting-strategy/

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

[iv] ibid

[v] ibid

[vi] Armstrong, M. J. (2013). A preliminary study of grade forecasting by students. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 11(2), 205. doi:10.1111/dsji.12003

Riddle Me This: I search. I find. I copy. I paste. What am I? Transforming cheating skills to information skills

riddler

Photography by Alexa Rae, published by reliken at http://imgur.com/gallery/8lU1m

Monday, an article in University Affairs Magazine by Alex Gillis led me to a study by Julia Christensen Hughes and Donald McCabe (2006). The study showed that 53% of nearly 15,000 Canadian undergraduates “reported having engaged in one or more instances of serious cheating on written work” in the previous year (p. 10). Although the study was published in 2006, the data was gathered during the 2002-03 academic year, which means that the ‘cheaters’ made up the majority of students a full 12 years ago. According to Gillis, the researchers are preparing to release a follow-up study that shows that cheating has ‘likely’ increased still more.

Institutions struggle to combat these numbers through awareness campaigns, strict academic misconduct policies, and expensive plagiarism detection tools. Still, the numbers suggest the problem is far from conquered.

It’s easy to attribute the increase in cheating to the advances in technology that have facilitated access to information, but I’m not so sure that’s the real problem.

Maybe the reason why these numbers keep going up is that we haven’t yet adapted our instruction and assessment measures to reflect the ways that we engage with information now. The classic model, still employed by some instructors, is that the instructor holds and controls the course information. The assessment that follows measures how well the students have stored and processed that information. However, this model may conflict with student experience which tells them that they can find any information they want any time they want it.

Maybe a new model needs be developed, one that surrenders the illusion of control over information and instead empowers students by teaching them how to find, understand, evaluate and productively use the information out there.[1] Assessment, then, would be less about the answer and more about the process for finding that answer.

Who better than Google, the company whose name is now a verb that means ‘to find information on the internet,’ to explore this idea further?

google
Once a day, Google asks a question that Google itself can’t answer–a stroke of beautiful and deliberate irony, in my opinion, and a clear statement about what Google perceives as ‘true’ information skills. It’s not what you know that matters. It’s what you can discover.

Here’s one Google-a-Day: ” An 11-foot bird lives less than two miles from 30.891383,-102.885032. What’s his name?”
This isn’t a question. This is a puzzle. It’s learning in its most active form. It’s problem solving and critical thinking. It’s the stuff that actually matters and makes it possible for us to live productive, successful, and meaningful lives.

So riddle me this: why are we asking questions that Google can answer when Google itself knows that that’s not what really matters?[2]

ally1Allyson Miller, Learning Skills Instructor and eLearning Developer, A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

[1] In actuality, problem-based learning is far from new. For more see Queen’s University’s overview.
[2] This line of thought was inspired by a session I plan on attending at Connect 2015, Canada’s Learning and Technology Conference. The presenter is Kendra Spira and the title of the presentation is “If you can Google the answer, are you asking the right question?”

Hughes, J. C., & McCabe, D. L. (2006). Academic Misconduct within Higher Education in Canada. Canadian Journal Of Higher Education, 36(2), 1-21.

Illiterate vs. Innumerate: Why is one okay?

mathematics-327488_1280 (1)Last week, a friend shared an article with me from the Globe and Mail. In it, the author stated that she was “never ashamed of [her] limited numerical skills”. Over the years, I have often ranted about the pride people take in saying that they were never good at math. I have a secret to share: while I love math, I wasn’t always good at it.

There. I said it. My secret is out. I have always found the patterns of mathematics comforting. There was also comfort that there was a right answer. While I worked at math problems, my stubbornness would kick in. I knew that if I worked at it, I would get it. When I did master concepts, I felt a certain pride in my accomplishments. My parents can verify my initial cursing over calculus. Most people think you need to be “smart” to do math. I think you just need to be tenacious.

I firmly believe that ALL people can do math. I also acknowledge that not everyone will enjoy math. However, in order to do math, some of us will require more effort than others. Some of us will have to work hard at addition and subtraction. Others will need to start working harder when algebra is introduced. There will be some people that only start working at math when they are doing graduate level research in a new number theory.   That being said, I think that most people, with a little effort and patience, can get to a point of competence with numeracy.

Admittedly, practicing multiplication tables or solving equations may not be as exciting as a team practice, a new video game or a good book. The excuses of “I will just use a calculator,” or “I am not good at math” don’t preclude you from still requiring math in life. Most people will wonder when they will need to find “x” in real life. However, almost all college and university programs require some type of mathematics course. With the basic numeracy skills, the courses become less of a struggle.

Let’s get rid of the notion that it is okay not to be good at math. We work hard to achieve literacy – let’s put the same effort into numeracy and abolish the idea that just because it doesn’t come easily means that you can’t do it.

Bayless, Maureen. (2015, February 12). A grave mathematical error. The Globe and Mail, p L6.

sueSue Guenther
Special Projects Coordinator, Academic Zone Resource Developer and “Math Guru”
A-Z Learning Services, Student Development Centre, Brock University

Teaching the Science of Writing

eis-01Figure 1. How scientists see writing a paragraph.

I teach a mandatory Scientific Writing course for Chemistry and Physics PhD graduate students to help them write their thesis or dissertation, and hopefully publications.   The funny thing is that I don’t have a PhD, and when I first started teaching the course, I didn’t even have a Masters!

Surprisingly, in the 7 years I’ve taught the course, my lack of a PhD has never been an issue. The problem has been getting students to believe that they can work on their writing while in grad school. I’m not saying that they don’t recognize or value good writing, but with their courses, TA work, lab demonstrating, supervising undergrads in the lab, group meetings, seminar presentations, let alone their research, adding one more task seems overwhelming, even if they know that it’s something that they need to work on.

horses-01Although we can lead horses to water, how do we make them drink? Or in my case, although academic regulations lead them to my writing class, how can I make them think (that it’s worthwhile)?

What do I do? I try as much as possible, to talk their talk. Every example is scientific. Use non-science examples and the class tunes out. Show the same example with chemicals or lab terms and I get buy in. These students need to see the direct relationship between the examples and their writing. It’s a simple thing, but surprisingly effective.

I also try to show that writing is like any lab skill. There are specific steps and rules to follow, but at the same time they can improve with practice and reflection!

Finally, I tell them that I’m their litmus test. I know about as much as a new Masters student who might pick up their thesis for background reading. I might not understand their research, but if I can follow their thinking and believe their argument based on the evidence- their writing is clear! I might not know if the science is correct, but at least their ideas are clear.

How do you inspire your science students to “drink”?

eis photoElizabeth Ilnicki-Stone, MSc (Chem), BSc, BEd, OCT
Academic-Zone Resource Developer
Instructor, A-Z Learning Services
Brock University, Student Development Centre

*Figure 1. Formula for a good paragraph. Elizabeth Ilnicki-Stone, A-Z Learning Services, 2015.

Integrity is . . .

explosionI talk about academic misconduct a lot. I mean, A LOT. I talk about the underlying issues like anxiety, time management, research skills, etc. I define plagiarism. I talk about the “letter of the law” (AKA university regulations regarding academic misconduct) and about best practices for how to avoid academic misconduct. And it’s all so damn depressing. So negative. So deflating. It’s a mantra of doom and gloom, and I feel the clouds gathering over myself and my students every time the topic comes up.

Just recently, though, the skies cleared and the sun beamed down. Or, to toss cheesy metaphors aside, I had a very good day, and I have students to thank for it.

Our team has been working on a module on academic integrity. (Note that the topic is academic integrity, not academic misconduct.) The module covers all the underlying issues previously mentioned—has to be done—but they’re housed under the larger umbrella of personal integrity. Personal, as in internal, as in not defined by institutional policy. Our goal was/is to help students see academic integrity as a natural extension of personal integrity, which is something that lives and breathes in all of us in one form or another.

The trick with this approach, though, is that personal integrity is wrapped up in personal values, which are wrapped up in family values, which are wrapped up in cultural values ad infinitum. So we struggled a bit with how we could talk about personal integrity without explicitly or implicitly imposing our values onto students. Then we had an epiphany: Let the students speak for themselves. We decided on a video.

That’s where things started getting fun. We invited a bunch of students, set up a fancy camera and mic, got some swag to pass out as a thank you, and started filming. The students were asked to complete the prompt: “Integrity is…” however they wanted as long as it had NOTHING to do with academics or academic integrity.

Devon, Undergraduate Accounting Student

Devon, Undergraduate Accounting Student

The students were a little taken aback by the anti-academic approach, and at first they seemed perplexed at how to respond. (A jaded spectator might attribute this to the downfall of students today. “Academic” and “integrity” are linked so often in post-secondary education, that they’re practically a compound word. Outside of academics, integrity is, what? ) But the students were, as they often are, funny, creative, thoughtful, and intelligent, and before long they had a whole slew of responses ranging from,

Integrity is being true to yourself.
to
Integrity is not ditching your friends to watch Netflix.

Indeed, they had more responses than we had time to film, and we had actual fun as they came up with more and more.

I hope it was a great experience for everyone. I KNOW it was a great experience for me. It was the first time (ever?!) that I talked with students about integrity where we ALL smiled and laughed, as opposed to the usual scenario where I’m in front of the students, desperately trying to dispel the clouds hanging over the room, while the students stare back at me either frightened, slack-jawed, or insulted by the underlying assumptions behind the conversation.

ally1So thanks to all those students who came out to play. I had a blast, and I’ll carry the experience with me as I finish up my part in developing this module!

Allyson Miller, Learning Skills Instructor and eLearning Developer, A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

How To Get Your Students Excited

How To Get Your Students Excited(Source)

I came across an inspiring post, from Terri Eichholz on her education blog, which has encouraged me to share my thoughts and first-hand student experience with you. Terri, a K-5 teacher with decades of experience, brings up a very important topic: challenging students to think. Terri believes that a requirement of being an effective teacher is connecting with your students, occasionally provoking them to think for themselves, and leaving a lasting impression with them after class time.

Memorable Teachers
Speaking from my own personal experiences, all of the memorable teachers and professors I’ve had share this quality and ideology. They present debatable material that challenges my perception of the world, especially if it is current material. For example, ethical discussions, current news stories, or even personal opinions on a topic often provoke me to engage and participate. Surprisingly, this tends to work even in courses that don’t particularly interest me.

The Ultimate Goal
At the end of the day, what are teachers really trying to accomplish? Of course, they want their students to understand the material and succeed, but perhaps more importantly, they want students to GET EXCITED about the subject.

In my opinion, once a student becomes excited and self-motivated to learn a topic, the educator’s main objective has been achieved. Even if students are struggling with their current understanding and expertise of the topic, the “ground work,” so to speak, has been established.

I’ve been told and truly believe that to be successful and happy with your life, you have to honestly love what you do and get excited to go to “work” every day. It’s always remarkable watching self-motivated people who excel in their respected skill.

The Flipped Classroom

(Source)

A popular concept in education, which is reviewed on Inside Higher ED’s website, is the idea of a “flipped classroom.” The basic definition of a “flipped classroom,” which varies depending on your source, is that the typical lecture and homework elements of a classroom are reversed. This means students would listen to a pre-recorded lecture at home and do homework in the classroom. Several different business models and organizations already promote this idea, like the well-known Khan Academy non-profit model, but is this model optimal?

Benefits
Don’t get me wrong; the “flipped” model has its benefits. (1) Students can go through the material at their own pace in a comfortable environment. This approach allows students who blaze through the material to be more efficient with their time and less confident students to spend as much time as they need to understand the content. (2) Students who are struggling with a problem or concept in class can ask an instructor for assistance who will guide them to the answer. Speaking from a student perspective, it is much easier (and memorable) to have an instructor work with you to solve a problem than it is consulting a textbook or searching for the answer online. (3) Plenty of opportunity to discuss and compare approaches with other students while in class. Students often solve problems and run into the same issues while working through problems. It can be very helpful and time efficient to collaborate with other students to achieve I higher degree of understanding. These benefits all contributes to a greater understanding of the content and a stronger awareness of troublesome areas that require greater attention.

Weaknesses
So why hasn’t everyone adopted this model? Simply put, it’s in our human nature to resist change. The traditional method of suggesting material to read over before class, lecturing during class, and assigning homework after class has been in place for centuries. This traditional “teacher experience,” arguably, can never be replaced. As a student, one fatal flaw I’ve experienced in the current system occurs at home. I often find it difficult to concentrate and motivate myself to read from a textbook or learn a new topic that doesn’t particularly interest me, especially if the content isn’t specifically brought up in class. I relate this experience to a chore I never liked doing, but is required for a greater cause, like my parent’s satisfaction (or graduation). Of course, it isn’t a perfect system, but we implement support initiatives to redeem its shortcomings. Many of these initiatives mirror the benefits of the “flipped classroom,” for example Academic-Zone’s personalized online approach. Lecturing for more than 50 minutes may not maintain student attention and be effected by diminishing marginal returns. However, the lecture still plays an important role in highlighting the key information in a mountain of text. Instructors also make themselves available after class to clarify information.

Final Thoughts
Similar to the article written by Pamela E. Barnett, a potential solution would be an integration of both systems. Taking the best of both models with the help of modern technology can improve the effectiveness of teaching. For example, having a short lecture, in-class exercises, and relevant online material/assessment could be a possible layout for the lectures of tomorrow. With this model, we have the opportunity to try a new approach and personalize learning for students of the 21st century.

What are you thoughts?
–     Do you think this “flipped classroom” model could work?
–     Would it be easier for students to learn information using this model?
–     How about instructors to teach?

I look forward to your opinion!