Sunday, January 25, 2009

Teaching Pt. 14

The effectiveness of item analysis of standardized exams was demonstrated recently. At a meeting of instructors we reviewed the results of a standardized student learning outcome exam. We performed item analysis and found that most students were performing poorly on certain questions.

The purpose of the exam was to determine exactly how much the student learned and mastered by the end of the class. So if they performed poorly on certain questions the conclusion is that they must not have learned it that well.

So what's the solution? Its easy, make all your quizzes and exams comprehensive. Quite possibly the best idea of the meeting, brought up by another instructor. Given that we have limited test time and that students can only study for so many things at once, we can modify this great idea and make sure to include at least one or two questions in each quiz and exam that pertain to the questions that most students miss on the student learning outcome exam.

For example suppose most students missed questions about order of operations and linear equations, so each exam and quiz will contain at least one or two questions regarding order or operations and linear equations. We can take this further and make it part of the homework. Every homework assignment will contain questions that most students miss in the student learning outcome exam. Of course you can only give these questions on exams and homework only AFTER you covered them in the course. The idea is great, constant reinforcement of difficult concepts.

There may be some instructor resistance to accepting and implementing effective ideas from others. I always remind myself of past professors that were some of the best in their field whose instruction definitely needed improvement. This goes to show that simply because someone understands and has mastered the material, doesn't mean they know how to teach it.

So if knowing the material does not imply knowing how to teach the material, then not knowing how to teach the material does not necessarily imply that you don't know the material. Hence any suggestions that may improve one's instruction should not be taken to mean one is incompetent, or ignorant, or unintelligent. Think about it, if professors who are the best in their field often have trouble teaching, doesn't mean they stop being the best in their field.

John G.


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