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19. 12

Programming lab-practicals; follow up

Written by: gcw - Posted in: Uncategorized - Tags: ,

In the end I couldn’t come up with a particularly salient assignment that illuminated mastery of all the course objectives of the programming class so I just lobbed this at my students. It was brutal. No one, absolutely no one, finished within two hours. Half of them didn’t even finish the first phase. One student gave me a look as they were leaving that left me sure I would see this in the hallway:

Now just because it was brutal doesn’t mean it was bad. While I don’t confuse rigor for quality in education, I also don’t believe that an education should be a comfortable experience at all times. And this exam did hit the major learning objectives that I had for the course and that I had tried to prepare students for. Also, I did get a nice spread of grades that correlated well with the student’s other work (the more labs they had completed, the higher they scored on the lab-practical).

But I learned a few things I’ll definitely put into practice for my next class that has a hands-on examination:

  • Lay out the objectives first, preferably in a way that I could share with the students, weeks before the lab-practical
  • Try and figure out a program/application that would need all of those objectives (instead of tacking the objectives onto the scenario)
  • Spend a lot more time thinking about chunking, that is
    • How granular should each task be, preferably one per objective?
    • How should they be ordered so that students have the greatest oppourtunity to demonstrate mastery?
    • How long should each task take?
  • Spend more time in class preparing students for activities like this. I had some in-class programming quizes early on in the semester but that fell by the wayside as we progressed.

It’s not hard to normalize the grades after the fact, and I would still categorize this as a successful lab-practical and a successful semester, but I plan on doing better next time.


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