Assignments and Study Partners

Finding Study Partners

Please share this information from the Learning Strategies Center with students if it is relevant for your course. The Learning Strategies Center (LSC) can help students find study partners for their courses.    With classes being physically distanced and many courses online, finding study partners can be difficult.  The LSC is able to match students with study partners and also provides tips on how to study together effectively, both in-person and online.  More information, including how to sign up, is on the Studying Together webpage.

Assignments - Basics

This week would be a good time to review your instructions for assignments.  Remind students where to find the assignments, updates (if any) to assignments, and turn-in logistics. Explain your policy on collaboration on assignments and academic integrity.  They will be more interested in it now with an assignment in hand than they were on the first day of class. 

Assignments - Helping Students Remember Important Material

To remember something, one has to first encode the memory and then also be able to retrieve the memory.  Both steps are necessary to be able to use the idea.  In engineering, we frequently rely on homework to push students to use the material, thereby encoding how to do something and retrieving the memory of it.  But we rarely focus on practicing remembering what they just did, so some of the value can be lost.  Discussing a homework problem with a study partner can reinforce both encoding and retrieving memories of the problem and solution.  (See above for helping students find study partners).  You can also help reinforce the encoding and retrieving of information with how you design homework problems.  Consider adding a step to problems that asks students to explain something about the problem after they have finished it.  The specific explanation requested is field and course specific but the goal is common; students have to retrieve the information from memory again to explain, and then they encode again in a different mode as they write an explanation.  Multiple ways of encoding a memory make the memory stronger.   Retrieving a memory in different contexts strengthens the ability to retrieve the memory in new settings (e.g. exam, future course or work settings).  Extending a problem can also be used to push student thinking to higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and can help them develop the critical thinking and reasoning skills they will need as informed citizens and skilled engineers.   In addition, the “explain” part of a question is also harder to find online or to copy from another student without it being obvious.  
Some ideas to extend problems to include an “explain” component:

  1. Have students explicitly check their approximations after solving a problem.
  2. Have students explain how a boundary condition helped define the solution.
  3. Have students compare the techniques used to solve different problems.  When do the techniques apply?  How can they tell if they can use a technique?
  4. How did they decide on the test cases they used for their code?
  5. Give an example where the approximation used would fail.
  6. Why couldn’t they have solved the problem using …………..?
  7. What conditions would be important to share with an engineer designing a solution to a problem like this?
  8. Would the solution scale up or down effectively?
  9. Would the solution change if the material was changed to ……?

Other approaches to practice recalling information and to encode it again to reinforce the memory and learning include: 

  • Problems that integrate using old material into current problems are especially helpful in connecting material as well as practicing with encoding and retrieving ideas.   
  • Review problems can be effective and students will appreciate them if you assign them, or even just offer them in the week or two leading up to an exam.  
  • Course projects that link material across the course and expect students to use the material again that they learned in assignments stretch students skills and also practice the retrieval and encoding of course content.

As an added bonus, students will have practiced “explain” questions and linking material across the course which will prepare them for seeing these kinds of questions on exams. Prepared students are less likely to feel pressure to cheat on exams.   In addition, written explanations should be more unique to each student and thus harder to “get away with” at least some kinds of cheating.

Continuity for In-person and Hybrid classes

With the Covid-19 alert moving to yellow and cases and warnings increasing, students are probably wondering how that will impact their courses.  If your course has an in-person or hybrid component, it might be reassuring to students to communicate your plan for course continuity if classes have to go online for two weeks.