Saturday, December 11, 2010

Students helping students

Dot Physics offers an excellent suggestion for communicating good study habits to new students: have this year's students tell next year's students what they need to do. Better yet, he posted what his student's wrote.

I know it is a good idea because I have been doing something similar for several years. It started with an end-of-semester question about prerequisites. (If you follow my blog, you know that I have identified the failure of students to comprehend the meaning of "prerequisite" as a long-standing problem for advanced classes like calculus and physics.) That info got shared with the math faculty who taught those classes, and I think I have seen an impact on what students learned and brought with them to physics (and calculus).

Later, based on discussions with a colleague at another school, I tried something similar to what Rhett Allain is trying: collect advice from current students (mine is entirely anonymous) and distribute it via Blackboard to the incoming class. (That mechanism is still a weakness because our students don't get access to their Blackboard shell until the first day of classes. They really need this kind of info before then.) They seem to appreciate it, but I'm less certain how much it helps.

Measuring changes in the success rate of any class is tricky. There are lots of variables. (To name just one that could be measured, I started getting a significant number of kids with AP calculus experience after the depression of 2008 hit.) The biggest is that they are busy (work or play or both) and sometimes just lazy and unprofessional, still looking for the easiest way to pass. Thus, even though my students, like Rhett's, offer the excellent advice to read the textbook before class and start their homework early, they just won't do it no matter who tells them about it. But they will form study groups, and that sort of collaborative learning has grown significantly in the last few years.

Has anyone else tried this? Any suggestions on how to get them to read?

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