Tuesday, July 05, 2016
The Whole and the Sum of Its Parts
On your first point, our humanities classes also assess writing separate from content (two distinct outcomes) so it is a blend of capstone and mapping. In principle, that could allow for a deeper look at the program if you had the racking data to see if students of one professor were more likely to retain the skill. (One problem is that some students work at actively forgetting what they learn each semester.) On the science/applications-of-math side of the fence, we fight like crazy to convince them that this behavior is not good for their career path.
On your second point, could it be that the on-line classes see the phenomenon where a C- student who worked like crazy to pass has better retention than the A student with a great short-term memory? Maybe the lower pass rate reflects that they have to learn how to teach themselves, which is harder at first but can lead to later success.
Finally, what I like about outcomes assessment is that it gives me an independent look at specific key parts of the course. Exam grades and passing rates can hide the fact that students who pass the exams and the course are very weak on one particular skill or topic.
The analogy from WAC to understand writing is that it's a lot like a class in ball handling. Just try to take a class in generic ball handling and see how that works for you in later golf, basketball, and soccer games. Only some things are relevant; it's not merely the discipline teaching the writing but also the genres required. For example, the "how" of using sources isn't universal.
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Making Meaning with Math in Physics:
A Semantic Analysis
Edward F. Redish and Ayush Gupta Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-4111 USA [email@example.com; Ayush@umd.edu]
Physics makes powerful use of mathematics, yet the way this use is made is often poorly understood. Professionals closely integrate their mathematical symbology with physical meaning, resulting in a powerful and productive structure. But because of the way the cognitive system builds expertise through binding, experts may have difficulty in unpacking their well-established knowledge in order to understand the difficulties novice students have in learning their subject. This is particularly evident in subjects in which the students are learning to use mathematics to which they have previously been exposed in math classes in complex new ways. In this paper, we propose that some of this unpacking can be facilitated by adopting ideas and methods developed in the field of cognitive semantics, a sub-branch of linguistics devoted to understanding how meaning is associated with language.
TLDR: students can do math in math class, but that doesn't transfer the way we expect because they are lacking a lot of implicit knowledge — which is the kind of thing that doesn't show up well on the outcomes assessments I've seen.
Self motivation is what I was talking about, but there are self-motivated students who have never learned that reading the textbook can help you pass a class! I'm less sure about a demographic tie to distractions, because well-off students might be more likely to replace time working with time on facebook. I wish there was a way to measure that!
Nice choice for this blog, because it touches on the problem of writing in classes that are not English class, but the problem they address has worsened signficantly in the last 20 years. Because all of our upper-level math classes teach how to use a specific graphing calculator, all of their problems are restricted to y as a function of x -- because that is all the calculator can do. There is no use of symbols more appropriate to a problem, like the pseudo problems where N was nickels and D was dimes. Plotting x as a function of t is crazy talk. (I use y versus t early for that very reason, but also to reverse the down=plus convention used in their math textbook examples.) If they haven't had physics before chemistry, they can freak out when they see the log of a reaction rate plotted versus the reciprocal of temperature. The chemists have to convert that into y versus x.
Although I agree on the need to construct meaning, the problem I mention is deeper than that. They don't remember math from semester to semester in math classes. Pre-calc starts with logs, which they "learned" the semester before and confronted on the final exam just a few weeks earlier. (It is even assessed as an outcome.) Yet many start pre-calc with zero memory of having seen logs at all. Perhaps they see it as math they will never use, or this is just a carry over from the HS expectation that it is all taught again the next year. Several years ago I blogged about what I describe as a failure to understand the CONCEPT of prerequisties. That article is linked from the third paragraph of the following one:
A student finishes one semester, and starts a new class in a new subject the next semester. The whole context is different, so nothing you learned last semester applies. It is similar to the way you can get up from your chair, go into another room to fetch something, and forget what it was you came for. The context has changed.
Also, many students do not want to know half (or more) of the stuff they are taught. They will learn just enough to pass the assessment, and then wipe their memory banks.
The only thing that can help is to make the various stages of the course more continuous. A single theme or collection of skills should be studied right through the three years. Courses tend to be too blocky.
Another possibility is that online courses hone persistence, or on a related note that they impact motivation differently. For example, if you fail an online course you might be more willing to retake it in person with less emotional baggage compared to failing it a traditional class (I first took calc online and it was dismal, I didn't complete it. I later took it in a "small group learning section" and it was fine).