Thursday, May 20, 2010

Feedback Before Assessment

Continuing my reflections on Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do (started here), I wanted to touch on a couple of things in the chapter on preparing to teach. The chapter largely contains 13 questions that the best teachers ask themselves as they prepare for their classes.

The question I marked while reading the book was this:
How will I find out how students are learning before assessing them, and how will I provide feedback before - and separate from - any assessment of them?
The part about giving feedback before assessment is something I rarely see in computer science. The first time I ever got feedback was when I got back my first assignment, already graded. I suppose the more recent introduction of tutorials in first year courses helps address this, though few courses have the resources to offer this. There is little interaction between students and instructors in most classes, and even if there is, it doesn't really have to do with providing feedback on abilities.

I'm taking a Graduate University Teaching Skills (GUTS) certificate program at Carleton, and we recently saw a video that I think demonstrates perfectly how science instructors can give feedback during class:

Thinking Together features three distinct models of collaborative learning -- a large introductory physics lecture, a small class in celestial navigation, and a section in physical chemistry -- filmed at Harvard. In each course, students discuss problems and devise solutions with the help oftheir instructors and peers. The results are greater student engagement and greater depth of learning.
A more modern version of this concept, which uses clickers, is shown in this video excerpt.

There are many basic, fundamental concepts that are so easy to misunderstand during computer science lectures. What a great way to clear those up before moving on.


collin said...

Brilliant; thanks for this post!

Now here's something I read recently (in CACM I think) about programmer education: suppose you take a group of students and assign them a number of programming problems, which they must solve unaided -- i.e., give them a traditional introductory programming class...

And suppose you take another group of students, and rather than having them solve each problem themselves, you work out the solution and show them the steps in doing so (i.e., they don't do any programming themselves on these).

Then supposedly the 2nd group will be better able to solve new programming challenges than the 1st group. I'm thinking that when students observe good programming (problem-solving) technique, they have a good model to emulate -- which Mazur's physics students got when students explain to other students why one answer is correct.

I really like the idea of providing feedback and assistance prior to handing out grades.

collin said...

>> in CACM I think <<
Found it: CACM 53:03 (March 2010), pp.10f: "How we Teach Introductory Computer Science is Wrong," by Mark Guzdial (Georgia Tech) Online at

Gail Carmichael said...

Nice! I think I remember reading that one. Will be worth taking another look. ;)

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