I really don’t like reviewing for exams. I don’t think I’m the only one that thinks this, by far.
If I create a the review sheet, I’m the one going through all of the content of the unit and identifying what might be important. It would be much more valuable to have students do this. I’ve also been filling the school server with notes and handouts of what we do each day, so they could be the ones deciding which problems are representative of the unit.
Suppose I do make a new set of review problems available to students. If students have this set of problems to work through during class, I spend my time circulating and answering questions and giving feedback, which is the best use of my time with students. Better yet, students answer each other questions, and give each other feedback. They lose the opportunity to see the scope of the entire semester themselves because, outside of the set of problems I prepare for them, they don’t actually take the time to see that scope on their own. They only see my curated sample and interpret it according to their own understanding of the relationship between review problems I select and problems I select for an exam.
I’ve had students themselves create review sheets, but this always has its own set of issues. Is it on paper or online? If on paper, how does this sheet efficiently get shared with other students? The benefit of an online resource is the ease of sharing. The difficulty comes from (1) the difficulty of communicating mathematics on a computer and (2) compiling that resource in one place. It’s a lot of work to scan student work and paste it into a document. Unless I am meticulous in making sure that all students are using the same program (which is a lot of work for a class of twenty-four students all with their own laptops) this becomes a lot of work (again) for me. I’ll do it if I really believe it is worth the effort for students, but I’m always looking to be efficient in that effort. I also don’t want to put this effort on the shoulders of a student to together. And before someone tells me to use Google Docs and its amazing collaborative tools, I’ll bring up the governmental disruption of Google services and leave it to you to figure out why that isn’t an option for me and my students.
In the end, I have to decide which is the most valuable for students relative to a review. Is it getting feedback on what a student does and does not understand? Is it going back over the entire semester’s material and figuring out what is important relative to a cumulative final?
If I have to pick a theme of my online experiments this year, it has been the search for effective ways to leverage social pressure and student use of technology to improve the quality of the time we spend in the classroom together. In the past, I have been the one collecting student work and putting it in one place when I’ve tried doing things differently for exam review. That organization is precisely something computers do well if we design a scheme for them to use.
Here’s what I have had students do this year:
Each student has a blog where they post their own review sheet for one standard. They submit the URL of their post and their standard number through the same site through which they sign up for SBG reassessments. They see a list of the pages submitted by other students:
This serves as a central portal through which students can access each other’s pages. Each student controls their own page and URL information, which saves me the effort to collect it all.
Why am I really excited about this list?
- I curate the list. I decide whether a page has met the requirements of the assignment, and students can see those pages with a checkmark and a WB for my initials. If a student needs to improve something, I can tell them specifically what isn’t meeting the requirements and help them fix it. Everyone doesn’t have to wait for everyone else to be finished for the review process to begin. I don’t decide what goes into each page generally, but I do help students decide what should be there. Beyond that, I don’t have to do any compilation myself.
- Students (ideally) vote on a page if they think it meets the requirements. Students can each vote once for each page, and see a checkmark once they have voted. This gets them thinking about the quality of what they see in the work of other students. I have been largely impressed with what students have put together for this project, and students are being fairly generous with this. I’m ok with that at this point because of the next point:
- Students have an incentive to actually visit each other’s pages. I have no idea how many students actually use the review sheets we’ve produced together in the past. I doubt it is very many. There’s some aspect of game theory involved here, but if a student sees that others are visiting his or her own pages, that student might feel more compelled to visit the pages of other students. Everyone benefits from seeing what everyone else is doing. If some review happens as a result, that’s a major bonus. They love seeing the numbers adjust real time as votes come in. There is a requirement that each vote include a code that is embedded in the post they are voting for, just so someone isn’t voting for them all without visiting the page.
- Students were actually using the pages to review today. Students were answering each other’s questions and getting feedback sometimes from the authors themselves.
- I get to have valuable conversations about citing resources online.
I really loved how engaged students were today in either developing their pages or working on each other’s review problems. It was one of the most productive review days I’ve had, particularly in light of the fact that I didn’t have to write a single problem of my own. I did have to write the code, of course, but that was a lot more interesting to me today than thinking of interesting assessment items that I’d rather just put on an exam.