Starting from Scratch? and a Workshop on Student Evaluations

Finding Out What Students Know

We hope the first week went smoothly and your classes are off to an exciting start. Add/drop ended yesterday; rosters (we hope) have stabilized; and now we’re getting to know our students. In addition to learning more about our students as people, we also need to get a sense of what they do and don’t already know at this point in the semester.

Most of us have strong views about what students ought to know when they start our classes, but what they actually know or are able to do is often very different. It can be startling to find out how mistaken our assumptions about their prior knowledge might be.

If we want to help our students build sturdy knowledge structures, it’s worth taking time to gather more precise information about where they’re starting: Are they new to the discipline? What prior knowledge do they have that you can elicit and build upon? Are there some common points of confusion you’ll need to help them clear up?

Our colleagues at CMU remind us that students’ prior knowledge can actually help or hinder learning:

Students come into our courses with knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes gained in other courses and through daily life. As students bring this knowledge to bear in our classrooms, it influences how they filter and interpret what they are learning. If students’ prior knowledge is robust and accurate and activated at the appropriate time, it provides a strong foundation for building new knowledge. However, when knowledge is inert, insufficient for the task, activated inappropriately, or inaccurate, it can interfere with or impede new learning.

There are a wide variety of pre-assessments and diagnostics we can use to collect information about what our students know: surveys, concept inventories, in-class activities,writing prompts, and more. We’re happy to help you find or develop a tool, fit it into your class, analyze the information you get back, and adjust your teaching in response to what you learn.


Interpreting and Responding to Student Evaluations

Thursday, January 23 | 2:00-3:30 p.m. | DIF 432 | Sign up to attend

Student feedback is essential for reflecting on our course designs and teaching practices, but finding out how students responded to us, and to our courses, can be an emotional, sometimes overwhelming experience. In this interactive workshop, we will share strategies for analyzing and interpreting the data collected at the end of each semester, and help you to make the best use of the feedback students provide in their comments. We’ll also discuss a variety of effective ways to collect feedback from students throughout the semester, so you don’t have to wait until a course is over to adjust it for better results.