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Contributed Student Pedagogy

It’s the end of the quarter. We’re getting ready for final exams. Many of you have spent a great deal of time thinking about and writing questions and problems for that exam, knowing that this is an opportunity to bring together everything your class covered in the past 10 weeks.

Shriram Krishnamurthi, a professor of computer science at Brown University asks students to contribute possible exam questions. He says that this is an example of what he calls “Contributed Student Pedagogy.” This technique is not to make his life easier. Instead, he uses these questions to develop concept inventories.

According to Exploring How Students Learn, “A concept inventory is a test to assess students’ conceptual understanding in a subject area.” Krishnamurthi says, “This is a very lightweight, cheap way of generating and evolving fairly good inventories.”

Krisnamurthi and Brown University colleagues Sam Saarinen, Kathi Fisler, and Preston Tunnell Wilson wrote more about this in their paper Harnessing the Wisdom of the Classes. They have also provided supplemental materials that we encourage you to check out.

By now we might have piqued your interest in concept inventories. Here’s a podcast from Michelle Smith, an Associate Professor in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine. In this podcast from Teach Better, Professor Smith gives advice for finding, creating and/or giving them.

What’s another approach to a successful end-of quarter exam? In another article from Teach Better, the author Doug McKee writes that they tried something new for an online class – a collaborative exam. “I strongly encouraged individuals to complete the exam on their own first and then meet to discuss their solutions—If you think this sounds an awful lot like a two-stage exam, you’re right! After the fact, many students told me they learned a lot during the exam through this collaboration process.”

How successful was this experiment? Well, pretty successful if you measure by student scores. But McKee realizes that there might have been students who simply copied other students’ work. He writes, “I’m seriously considering a hybrid approach where I first ask them to take a short (say 10 question / 30 minute) randomly generated multiple choice exam on their own. Then they take a collaborative exam like the one I gave as a midterm. It would be much less work than a full-on multiple choice set up, but it would still let me identify those students who have no idea what’s going on and free-rode on the midterm. The collaborative piece would let me ask tougher questions and keep all the learning that happens during the exam. Their score would be a weighted average of what they get on the two parts.”

These are just some thoughts on generating exams and exam questions, whether in an online class or not, and if you have other ideas you’d like to contribute please leave your comments!