Glencora Borradaile

         Associate Professor & College of Engineering Dean's Professor, School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Oregon State University

October 1, 2010

Experiments in teaching: am-I-ready-for-this quiz

I am teaching ‘the grad algorithms course’ for the second time.  It is the first time I am teaching a course for the second time and am excited at finally having the opportunity to fix my previous mistakes.  ‘The grad algorithms course’ is required for all CS Ph.D. students in our department and a prerequisite for any other grad course that I teach.  Last year I had ~30 students.  This year I expected the same, if not less, since I heard that grad enrolment was high last year and low this year.  But no.  First the 35 slots filled up.  Then the 10 slot waiting list filled up.  Then they raised the cap (complete with room change 3 days before term) to 45.  Then the class filled up again.  Cap raise + room change to 49 the day before class.  STOP!

Enrolment has waned back down to 38.  Perhaps at least partly due to my first experiment in teaching, the am-I-ready-for-this quiz.

Last year I was a softy.  Don’t think you have the background for the class?  Give it a try! Come by my office, I’ll bring you up to speed.

I’m not doing that this year.  Sure it will probably save me some time, but mostly I think (hope) it is more fair to the students in the class who do have the background.  So on the first class of the second week, I am giving a quiz on material that is either (a) standard and easy undergraduate algorithms material or (b) very easy for someone to learn in roughly one hour of reading given standard undergraduate algorithms material.  My motivation was from Jeff Erickson’s Homework Zeroes and has the goal of:

  • Formally letting the students know that even though this course may be required for their program and they were accepted to the program, they may need to do some work before attempting the course.
  • Getting the students thinking about algorithms and paging back in their (fond) memories of undergrad algorithms.
  • Getting the students reading material, learning the lingo (particularly if their undergrad courses were not taught in English) before we get into the harder material in the class.

The quiz is next week. I’ll try and remember to report back on how it went.

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  1.   Yaroslav Bulatov — October 2, 2010 @ 8:31 am    

    When I took diff.eq. at OSU, the instructor handed out quizzes on the first day and said that anybody who scores below 70 will probably fail the class. About half the people didn’t show up the second day

  2.   Glencora — October 4, 2010 @ 8:26 am    

    I really hope half the students don’t leave my class after the quiz …

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