Lean Teaching Q&A #4

Question: I looked at your undergraduate course syllabus. Could you tell me more about in-class group cases?

Answer: The in-class group cases for the undergraduate course consist of one or more vignettes of a problem, typically a paragraph or two, that students read, discuss, and answer in 15 to 30 minutes. I write the vignettes myself, based on my work experience in industry, or borrow from other sources (with attribution) and edit them to suit my needs and the desired learning outcome.

Question: How do you grade in-class group cases?

Answer: Each in-class group assignment is worth 1, 2, or 3 points, depending upon the course. For example, they are graded as: 2 = on-target, 1 = somewhat off-target, 0 = totally off-target (and thus an opportunity for me to improve [mistake-proof] the in-class group case). Immediately after the case is turned in to me, I explain to students the solutions that would have been on-target, somewhat off- target, and totally off-target.

Question: What do you include in course packets for homework reading?

Answer: The reading material is collected from a variety of sources and consists of magazine articles, newspaper articles, essays that I have written, and peer-reviewed journal papers, depending on the course. I assemble them into a reading pack, which undergoes a lot of changes each semester to ensure the reading material is both current and relevant to that weeks topic.

Question: Are the weekly assignments that you ask students to turn in based on the readings they do before class? Are you gauging them for how much they understood from the readings?

Answer: Yes. Homework assignments are typically one, a few, or several questions from each week’s reading material (typically qualitative, given the courses that I teach). I grade students based on whether or not they answered the questions correctly, which means that I am also gauging what they understood from the readings. I then review the homework details and learning outcome in class the next day. The idea behind the weekly graded homework assignments is to focus students on answering one or more very specific question and channel their work into a very specific learning outcome. Sometimes the “answer” to the question is simply data which I collect from students and then create charts or graphs to discuss in class the next day and elaborate on the learning outcome. Other times, students will be asked to extrapolate the reading to a different situation and answer questions in a different topic area.

Question: It is a scary thought to not have exams. Would students take me for being too easy? I am not sure about the repercussions of not having exams in my class. Any suggestions?

Answer: This is a great opportunity to be creative! Think about alternative forms of evaluation that would be appropriate (as well as lower stress than in-class exams). You will have to experiment with this over time. I find that student learning greatly increases when the threat of mid-term exams, final exams, and pop quizzes is eliminated. At first they will think you’re nuts, or too easy, but soon they will realize that you are much more serious about learning, retention, and real-world practice than testing. I am not sure about any repercussions that you might face. Check your university policy to see if exams are actually required. The university registrar’s mid-term and final exam schedule does not constitute a requirement for faculty to give these exams. Usually, in-class exams are not required, but some form of student evaluation is usually need – though still perhaps not required.

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