Adding Check-in Meetings to Projects

One of the things I tried this semester for the first time was adding a mandatory one on one meeting with me for every student where I would review their progress on the final project. Having completed those meetings, I am very glad I chose to do them and think they were a huge contribution to the remote learning versions of my courses. I have mixed thoughts about whether I will continue them for in-person instruction.

For my OO programming course, this was a major addition to the course and a big win. I’ve always counted on students dropping by my office with questions or my spotting them in the lab and checking in on them. And tons of that has always happened and it was certainly productive. For students who were on track and didn’t want to meet with me, not having a meeting seemed like it was not imposing an extra hoop for them to jump through. But across the board, every one of the meetings I had was valuable. For the students who got the project and ran with it and had a pretty complete implementation already done when we met, we had really good discussions about design choices – what looked good and where they could do better and even some reflection on why I wrote the project the way I did. For students more in the midst of their work, they seemed very grateful for the chance to confirm they were on the right track or get a red flag if they were starting to veer off course. And I noticed that even for the students I’d answered questions for over the prior weeks, the nature of this conversation was different. I had them email me their complete set of code prior to the meeting so I could guide the conversation to elements I thought we needed to discuss and the context led both the student and I to step back and have a more high-level check-in about the shape of the project rather than why they were getting a weird exception in one place. This was a sufficiently positive experience I will try this in-person at least once to see if it is equally valuable in that context.

For my AI course, the students were completing a more traditional research project and a written research update was always intended as part of the assignment even if we had remained having in-person class. I’ve done this in other courses with similar projects and I give written feedback and call a few students in who seem to be particularly struggling and we move along. But when I do that, I know I often get a lot of students asking quick questions after class about my feedback, and I also wanted to make sure that I was doing a bit more than usual to keep students moving in productive directions, so I incorporated a required meeting associated with the written research update. Before each meeting I read their written document and took notes on their progress towards each of the required elements of the project and any advice I had. But I opened the meeting by asking if, having written their update, they had realized they had any questions for me. Everyone did, and they were all great questions that lined up with things I’d already written above. The conversations were good and I did a quick revision on each of my feedback documents to reflect our conversation before sending them along to the student. So, it was a positive experience. It was also only possible (even after canceling a class session) by holding over half of the meetings after 5pm or on the weekend. In part this was because of the shorter amount of the term left after spring break and also needing to complete all of these meetings before starting with the meetings with my programming students. I think it may also just happen to be a course with more students with complicated schedules in this current situation. I also felt like the meetings were good but that a lot of the benefit was just the act of checking in on the student, making sure they were okay, and reinforcing the personal connection that I, at least, find harder to maintain in an interactive audio or video conversation with several students or the whole class as compared to when I am in the classroom. So my take away here is that I’m very glad I did this and think it was excellent for the remote version of the course, and there might be less time intensive ways to get similar value when I’m teaching the course in person again.

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