Glencora Borradaile

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

December 17, 2010

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

One of my experiments in teaching this quarter was to have a quiz the second week of class on material that I considered so basic, that if you couldn’t do very well on the quiz, well, you may well consider (re-)taking the undergrad algorithms course first.  A few students with lower scores on the quiz did decide to drop the class.  Well, term is over now and I can see how good an indicator this quiz was.

Shown below are the student grades on the midterm and final (y-axis, midterm ‘o’ and final ‘*’)  vs the quiz score (z-axis) – plots are linear.  The brighter the shade of green for the vertical bar connecting a students exam scores, the higher the final grade for the student.  While there are a few outliers, I think that I wasn’t wrong in saying that a low score on the quiz may indicate that you aren’t ready for grad algorithms.  What you can’t see as well here is that the midterm scores were quite linear with the quiz – not as surprising as the midterm covered material that I would expect starting CS grad students to know anyway.

So I’ll probably do this again next year.  I’m better informed though.  I’d like to include a few harder questions to give a better indication of mathematical maturity than this year’s version provided.  My goal?  A perfect indicator, so that I can skip all forms of evaluation and simply assign the students a grade based on the first quiz.

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  1.   anonymous — December 17, 2010 @ 8:39 pm    

    The low quiz grades show an increase from midterm to final
    The high quiz grades show a decrease from midterm to final
    This suggests that the quiz has little predictive value. The students who did well on the quiz and midterm had an advantage and an easier time in the course based on some previous work (perhaps a previous course with you), but they were pretty clearly inferior to the really good students who learned the advanced material during the term. The only thing the quiz shows is which students guessed or knew your exam expectations.

  2.   Yaroslav Bulatov — December 18, 2010 @ 1:52 am    

    Do you have access to student GPA? I bet it would be a pretty good predictor

  3.   CC — December 18, 2010 @ 8:16 pm    

    Overall it is better to focus one’s limited energy and
    time on teaching rather than evaluation.

  4.   Glencora — December 28, 2010 @ 1:30 pm    

    For the record, I am kidding about my last remark. Also for the record, the initial quiz is intended purely for the students’ benefit – my own is simple curiosity.

    But I hear you, CC – I wish I didn’t have to have exams. Particularly at the graduate level. At the end of the term, I have to assign a grade based on something. Any creative ways to do this non-traditionally while conforming to the letter-grade status quo?

  5.   Irit — December 29, 2010 @ 8:36 am    

    You take it for granted that you need to assign a grade at the end of the semester. Why is this? The grades are primarily used by companies to screen job candidates. Did you become a professor so that you can provide companies with this service?

  6.   Glencora — December 29, 2010 @ 3:00 pm    

    Ha! No.

    I grew up with the percent grading system – you get a grade between 0 and 100 – more practically between 49 and 100, since anything < 50 was a fail. I remember my professors complaining that the granularity was too fine. I (now) agree. At OSU, we have letter grades A, A-, B+, B, …, D-, F. This still feels too fine. I would love to grade in a pass/fail system. But then how would awards be made, etc. Maybe a pass/fail/excellent system? But then, would grade inflation remove the meaning of excellent?

    Really, ideally, I would not have to give grades. Period. I teach. The students learn. Sadly, there are students, even at the graduate level, who don't seem to care about learning.

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