Spring 2020 Goals, Revisited

Back in January I posted some goals for the Spring semester here, with the intention of revisiting them at the end of the term to see how I did. I was tempted to let myself off the hook, but I did have half a term during which things were relatively normal, and reflection is good, so let’s see how I did.

Goal 1: Provide feedback as guidance more than correction in my object-oriented programming course.

I think I did pretty well here. I definitely kept this in mind all semester; as I graded I tried to focus on whether there was either (1) content in the assignment I could point towards or (2) a test case I could provide to help illuminate the issue. Having those two options for providing feedback at the top of my mind seemed to work pretty well for distinguishing cases where the student needed to rethink their problem solving, perhaps looking again at the guidance given in the assignment, versus cases where the student had a syntax error or misunderstanding of a method that I could clear up.

Something that I think also helped was I told students I would be doing this. I told them that I also knew it would be frustrating to have an error pointed out to them and just be referred to elements of the assignment and test cases that helped show that error if they had already found it but hadn’t been able to fix it. So, if they included a comment in their code documenting the issue and what they had tried, I would provide feedback specifically responding on their comment. This worked well – students were good about documenting the issues they knew existed and so even in the cases where I did provide specific guidance of what to try next to fix their code, it was after they had reflected on the problem.

And, I don’t think moving online had a big impact on this. In fact, because I was providing feedback electronically without writing directly on their source code, it was probably easier to remember to provide this type of feedback.

So, goal met and was very successful. I intend to keep doing this.

Goal 2: Keep careful notes on what works and what needs to be revised for the next offering of my artificial intelligence course.

I made this a goal because I knew I was bad at this, and I would say I did okay. I certainly did well marking where my lesson plans for a class session had too much or too little in them to help plan ahead for adjusting the pace next time – this offering, I ended up just rolling content into the next day or pulling content planned for the next day forward as needed and it worked out fine. But I’ve added a task to my to-do list for next week to write up some of the changes I ought to make. I ended up entirely changing the plan for the final exam to be focused on research presentations and structured conversation and I think that worked great, so I want to wrap that into the course as the plan from the start, even if we’re meeting in person. On the other hand, I made the final implementation project less open-ended – originally I wanted them to find any data set they were interested in and work with it, but I pre-vetted some options and then had them choose from among those. I think the open-ended version will be better but given the situation, it made sense to prioritize some level of consistency and reliability this time around. So, overall, I did okay on this, but it’s a practice I need to get better at. I’m considering if I need to actually come up with a structure that I use for all my classes for this type of note taking to make it a habit.

General Goal: Be present for my students while in the classroom.

I’m glad I had this goal, because I think this became even more important as we moved to remote instruction. I can’t honestly remember how I did at this in the first half of the semester – I think okay? It’s usually the second half of the term when things get chaotic that I struggle more with getting distracted by thinking about the email I have to answer or the meeting I’m going to have while students are working together in groups. Being online certainly made that harder – when we met synchronously I pretty much always had students working in pairs or groups and rotated between them, checking their progress. It would have been pretty much invisible to them if I had quickly checked my email during class. Fortunately, “walking” between groups in their various channels or chat rooms gave me plenty to focus on.

The biggest issue was having chat messages crop up from students in another class while I was working with a class in session. Perhaps there would be a way in Teams to set myself as available to just one group but unavailable or in do not disturb mode for the rest of my students. But that is the place where I did fail here. In person, I would never have other students wandering into the classroom with a quick question, and if they did, I’d have felt comfortable pointing out that I was in class and could they email me or find me later. I felt more pressure to answer chat messages that came in during class – clearly it wasn’t the same on the student side, as they were just sending a message, not knowingly walking into my class. But on my side, when a message popped up, I had to read it to tell if it was from a student in the class I was running with a direct question. And there were many cases where, once I read the message from a student not in my class, I was already halfway through formulating the answer by the time I finished reading it, so it seemed easiest to answer it at the time. I also don’t think there was a way to mark those messages as “unread” to make sure I remembered to go back and deal with it later if I did ignore it at the time. So, there was a bit of blurring between being present just for the students actually in class with me and fielding questions from other students.

So, overall, not bad for a semester disrupted halfway through…

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