Monday, May 9, 2016

The value of student pre-reading quizzes

How might you achieve some of the following desirable teaching goals?
  • Get students to read the text book
  • Find out what students are enjoying learning
  • Find out what students are struggling to understand
  • Keep students engaged
  • Get feedback during the semester rather than at the end through student evaluations.
A key component of innovative teaching approaches such as peer assisted instruction, flipped classrooms, and just in time learning (a la Eric Mazur and Carl Wieman) are getting students before each class meeting to complete a short online quiz, based on reading the relevant part of the text. Ideally the teacher looks at the students answers before the class to get a feel for where they are at in understand and to address specific issues in the class.
Some of my UQ physics colleagues have really pursued this approach. 

I am currently teaching a second year undergraduate thermodynamics class with Joel Corney, from whom I have learnt a lot about teaching innovation.

Once a week the students complete a 3 question quiz on Blackboard (course software that all UQ courses "must" use). These do not contribute towards the final grade, but are a "hurdle" requirement: students must complete at least 70% to pass the course.
On average 80% of the students are completing these quizzes. In contrast, about 50% bother to show up for class.

The first two questions are brief basic comprehension questions base on the reading. e.g.,
Give a concise statement of the second law of thermodynamics for a system at constant temperature and volume. In your answer, refer only to system properties.
The third question is usually.
What concepts or topics did you find most difficult in the reading? If none, explain what you found most interesting.
I do find this is quite beneficial. I do believe that some of the goals above are achieved.
It does give me a much better feel for where the students are at. Some do appear to be doing the reading, thinking about it, and learning something. On the other hand, some are very confused. Others appear to not do the reading but just make wild guesses at the answers.

Below are some sample answers to the last question. The first two bring a smile to my face!
I loved how thermodynamics is used in so many areas in science. We studied Gibbs Free Energy in CHEM1100 so the term is familiar but it's fantastic to cover it in so much depth especially the mathematical reasoning behind the equations that were forced down our throat in first year with very minimal explanation. 
As an engineering student all this thermodynamic identity business does my noodle. Understanding all the theoretical stuff and "beautiful equations" is challenging coming from a world of plug and chug. 
It's really useful thinking about whether or not properties are intensive or extensive. It was always kind of a gut feeling type thing, but it's nice to finally clarify it. 
I feel like a lot of this stuff seems kind of useless at the moment, hopefully it will all fall into place soon. I know that it should be simple, but I can't seem to wrap my head around the free energy stuff and particularly how it is related to entropy.  
Fuel cells seem super cool. I don't particularly understand the Legendre transformations that were mentioned in the footer of page 157. 
I found it hard to keep up with the logic. Though i 'found the answers' to the questions above, i do not fully understand them. 
It's satisfying having the four thermodynamic potentials and identities but I feel like it's just a gateway to confusion, like all the assumptions that are made for the various derivatives of energy and entropy, etc.. Wizard 'diagrams' still don't help.
I struggled with the concept "free energy" until I really looked at the reading question. Having to think about it properly made me really understand what is meant by the term. I would still like to go over this concept in class. 
I am lost in the relationship between U, F, H and G. 
I know this is a physics course, but how much chemistry content is assumed knowledge?  
I don't get how in deriving the ds_total=-(1/T)dF form of the second law of thermodynamics for constant volume and temperature you can assume that the temperature of the system is equal to the temperature of the surroundings, and for there to still be an exchange of energy between the two. Unless its an isothermal transfer of heat between the system and surroundings, I don't get how you can have no temperature gradient, yet for there to be a transfer of energy between the system and environment in a no-work process. An explanation in the lecture would be greatly appreciated. 
i thought i understand the arguments, but i know i dont when i tried the questions.
This is very useful and helpful feedback.
However, the benefit comes with a cost... my time. It takes about 2-3 hours to read and grade the responses. Furthermore, you have to be well organised to do this before the lecture. (I didn't manage to do that for my first 2 weeks but have now caught up and so now hope to...)  If you want to change the lecture that also takes more time....
In a leisurely world what would be great would be to actually respond individually online to some of the student questions...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ross,

    I'm glad you are appreciating the pre-reading. I think that when the students see that you are taking it seriously, they take it more seriously and everyone wins. If you are taking 2-3 hours to mark, I'm guessing you are being very diligent! For the first year reading quizzes, I can mark ~200 students in around 40 mins, including emailing about 15-20 of them. However, I don't really look at their answers to the questions, only the "what did you find difficult" part. I think the value in the other questions is making them think and attempt to answer! Would be interested to hear your comments.