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Preparing Assignments and Grading Mikhail Nesterenko.

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1 Preparing Assignments and Grading Mikhail Nesterenko

2 Why Assignments, Types assignments is the most effective teaching tool. Students learn by doing. They are hard on instructor. Students resist. Do them anyway types –exams –homeworks –programming projects –quizzes –other assignments in-class presentation, reports participation, makeup (exra-work)

3 Writing Questions Question needs to be unambiguous, clear. –hard to predict, if had ambiguity – prepare to give credit for alternative answers or full credit to everyone (do not cancel question), worst case if it had an unintended “shortcut” answer, –when clarifying, make sure to inform all students (on exam: announce, in homework: say in class, email to mailing list). If ambiguity found, write in notes, correct next year appropriate difficulty –should not be direct citation/statement from notes –should not require rote memorization –make it a comparison of two concepts or illustration of a key concept, give opportunity for well prepared students to show their knowledge ideally, –A should be hard to get –B but a mid-pack student who studied, –C or less – indicator that the student did not study

4 Writing Questions (cont.) Question needs to be easy to grade – there should be an easy way to determine whether the question is answered correctly or not, preferably without reading most of the answer –avoid open-ended questions – hard to grade, not very useful –careful with computation/math questions, students (under pressure) can easily get it wrong fair – do not assign “gotcha” questions – on material that is a “side issue”, on things that you covered in class but not in the textbook. Try to test major concepts and skills Makeup exam, schedule it afterwards, assume the student is already familiar with exam contents. Changing it, extensively makes it unfair, change just enough to make it confusing if not studied Last year’s exam. Consider it compromised. However, do not be overly paranoid, just change enough to be confusing for people who did not study. Eventually, consider handing out old copy of the exam as preparation aid

5 Quiz/Multiple Choice Questions quiz is an excellent mini-test to keep the students engaged between exams. Consider giving early in the semester to set the working tone for semester some students consider it easy and do not study. Warn them, yet be prepared to deal with the fallout compose questions so that they are not trivial and require studying. be extra careful as they are easy to get ambiguous or “gotcha” excellent thing to have TA grade

6 Exam vs. Homework Questions Homework - is a teaching instrument, exam – testing. Students study when they do homework but when they prepare for exam homework questions –students have time to think, consult the textbook (for about half of them it would be the first time they open it) –they also have time to ask you questions. –try to get majority of students to start working on homework earlier than a few days before it is due (how to do it is still a mystery to me). The longer they work, the better they learn –homework can be extensive. However, too long – won’t do it and get lost, forget about early materials exam questions –short, simple, to the point: students work under stress and time limitation –no time to think, just demonstrate learned material and skills –hopefully, the questions should cover all the major topics so that the students do not think they studied “in vain” –should not be too easy (or the won’t study next time) or too hard (you’ll have difficulty grading)

7 Projects CS students are first and foremost programmers. Give them a programming project no matter what class you teach most of them are a lot worse programmers then they (or you) think: –they get lost, they spent too much time on debugging or on other issues unrelated to course material however, if they coded it, they really learned it give simple, clear project assignments that are related to the class but somehow do not significantly compromise their grade be prepared to read and advise on their code. Instruct TA to help. Be prepared to advise on debugging/functions/classes/objects (yes, they should have learned by now, but they did not. You are an instructor – instruct)

8 Grading Yourself well kept secret – you are in charge of how you grade. Good ideas –there should be at least one student, hopefully more than one who got a higher A, start grading with better students to gauge your grading –should be uniform/fair – useful metric: assume that all students talk to each other and be ready to explain to each student why you took off this or that point provided that he/she knows how you graded others. writing individual comments to students is time consuming, what works well – going over the grading after handing them back the results and covering your grading policy and typical mistakes. However, mark taken off points –appear impartial and fair: explain your grading decisions from the standpoint of minimal required correct answer. Do not appear to be eager to take off points it is often very boring. Brace yourself and do it. Students need it. Do not complain to students, they do not sympathize grade it promptly and announce grades to students as soon as you can respect student’s privacy: do not mention their grade in public, do not post grades online (FERPA regs)

9 Grading with TA TAs differ in their grading style – do not make your course overly depend on TA, grade exams yourself. Weigh them heavily –keep in mind: TAs often grade “lightly” since this generates fewer problems and ingratiates them to students give clear instructions as to how to grade. Probably check TAs first grading batch yourself. Give solution to the TA (know that it might be leaked to the students). Handing out solutions to the students anyway is a good preventative measure. Have TA attend the class where you explain solution to the homework the TA is to grade –however, delegate. Do not do TAs work. Make him help you. make sure TA knows your late submission/grading/plagiarism policy have TA hold office hours and answer student’s questions about grading by email. have TA maintain grade roster

10 Grading Mistakes End of Semester Issues If students question grades. Carefully read the exam your grading. –do not be afraid to admit you messed up (usually math of taking of points) or missed the answer. Do not forget to change the grade. To student: email me that I am giving you two extra points (works well) –Stand by your policy. Remember if you change for one student, you’ll have to change for all on similar issue –worst unfairness: caving in on unfounded pleas: But professor, I worked so hard, can I have an extra 2 points? Variant: I just need 2 points to get a with TA, have students contact TA first. If they still have questions, investigate with TA. Back TA up if he/she acted correctly. Do not avoid responsibility for grading. Ultimately, you are responsible, TA is a helper. need to be a cutoff point for semester grade questioning (write it in syllabus or announce it clear in class) or begging for extra points never stops. There should be a date of cutover of responsibility from TA to you (after December X, come to me with questions)

11 Preparing Students for Tests/Exams ideally, there should be two types of content, maybe even worth delineating, but not too strictly –for exams – some students study for exams, respect it –extra material for students who are interested in the subject (remember different goals for different types of students) essentially, all your “productive” teaching should be an extended preparation for exams/tests. However, do not drill, instruct and explain. –remember, when you write the exams, make sure your exams cover the material you teach homeworks are usually not sufficient to prepare for exam – homework: solve problem, exam – demonstrate concept knowledge. Therefore, before the exam, list subjects they need to study. –tell them that reading slides alone is not sufficient. My mantra: read the slides first (to know what to study), then read the textbook, then read slides again (for review)

12 Attitude towards Assignments do not put yourself in position of taskmaster – antagonizes students, creates resistance –do not gloat, but be firm on assignments style yourself as a helper works well – “last year’s students had this question on the exam …” do not give direct answers to exam questions (it’s not a memorization exercise), if you give veiled hints (or focus on material that is on the exam) make sure that all students hear it.

13 Dealing with Complaints if it is a valid complaint, you are doing something seriously wrong –unfair teaching, harassment, unprofessional conduct, etc. (absorb, apologize, never do it again) however, most probably, students get frustrated, start blaming you for their problems, find a pretext and complain. Remember, students paid money, they are the customers –if they complain to you, explain the issue. Do not take it personally. However, be firm and do not cave in (students will find out and you will lose their respect or will be blamed for unfairness). You do not have to make a decision immediately: Let me think about it. Is a good answer. Check with experienced faculty, dept. head. –if they complain to dept. head/higher. Be prepared to defend yourself: usually there is a presumption of guilt on the instructor. In general, dept. head having to deal with complains is considered the instructor’s fault. Analyze and see if you can avoid such complaints in the future. Do not develop “fear of complaint” “sinking ship” complaints/appeals: students are failing the course. Try to differentiate the reasonable from unreasonable causes. Err on the side of student –valid: missed major exam, major personal (death in the family) or health problems –not valid: I forgot the deadline, I work so hard and just could not get it

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