Student feedback on having weekly practice quizzes (instead of homework)

This term I eliminated the weekly homework assignment from my calc-based intro physics course and replaced it with a weekly practice quiz (not for marks in any way), meant to help them prepare for their weekly quiz. There’s a post coming discussing why I have done this and how it has worked, but a la Brian or Mylene, I think it can be valuable to post this student feedback.

I asked a couple of clicker questions related to how they use the practice quizzes and how relevant they find the practice quiz questions in preparing them for the real quizzes. I also handed out index cards and asked for extra comments.

Aside from changing from homework assignments to practice quizzes, the structure of my intro course remains largely the same. I get them to do pre-class assignments, we spend most of our class time doing clicker questions and whiteboard activities, and there is a weekly two-stage quiz (individual then group). I have added a single problem (well, closer to an exercise) to each weekly quiz, where in the past I would infrequently ask them to work a problem on a quiz.

Clicker Question 1

L1302081000_Q1 L1302081000_C1


Clicker Question 2

Just from a quick scan of the individual student responses on this one, I saw that the students with the highest quiz averages (so far) tended to answer A or B, where the students with the lower quiz averages tended to answer B or C. I will look at the correlations more closely at a later date, but I find that this is a really interesting piece of insight.



Additional Written Feedback

Most of the time I ask the students for some feedback after the first month and then continue to ask them about various aspects of the course every couple of weeks. In some courses I don’t do such a great job with the frequency.

Usually, for this first round of feedback, the additional comments are dominated by frustration toward the online homework system (I have used Mastering Physics and smartPhysics), requests/demands for me to do more examples in class, and some comments on there being a disconnect between the weekly homework and the weekly quiz. As you can see below, there is none of that this time. The practice quizzes, the inclusion of a problem on each weekly quiz, and perhaps the provided learning goals, seem to do a pretty good job of communicating my expectations to them (and thus minimize their frustration).

Student comments (that were somewhat on topic)

  • I feel like the practice quizzes would be more helpful if I did them more often. I forget that they have been posted so maybe an extra reminder as class ends would help.
  • The wording is kind of confusing then I over think things. I think it’s just me though. Defining the terms and the equations that go with each question help but the quizzes are still really confusing…
  • Curveball questions are important. Memorize concepts not questions. Changes how students approach studying.
  • The group quizzes are awesome for verbalizing processes to others. I like having the opportunity to have “friendly arguments” about question we disagree on
  • I love the way you teach your class Joss! The preclass assignments are sometimes annoying, but they do motivate me to come to class prepared
  • I enjoy this teaching style. I feel like I am actually learning physics, as opposed to just memorizing how to answer a question (which has been the case in the past).
  • I really enjoy the group quiz section. It gets a debate going and makes us really think about the concepts. Therefore making the material stick a lot better.

Last thought: With this kind of student feedback, I like to figure out a couple of things that I can improve or change and bring them back to the class as things I will work on. It looks like I will need to ask them a weekly feedback question which asks them specifically about areas of potential improvement in the course.

5 Comments on “Student feedback on having weekly practice quizzes (instead of homework)”

  1. bretbenesh says:

    This is probably an impossible question for you to answer, but: do you have a sense as to how this class is doing compared to your last “weekly homework” class? The students here are commenting on the practice quizzes, but they have no experience with the homework. Do you see improvement in how successful they are (they definitely seem happier)?

    • Joss Ives says:

      The quiz averages are higher this time around as compared to the last two times in this course. But this class has routinely been outperforming my last two classes on the pre-class assignments and clicker questions as well.

      This is the 2nd half of our intro sequence so they all would have had physics homework (but not weekly quizzes the same way I do) in their 1st half of the sequence.

  2. Mylène says:

    That’s some really encouraging feedback!

    I’m guessing that students are doing the practice quizzes on their own time. Any thoughts about doing them in class? I wonder how many students do them alone vs. with friends or with their book/notes. My hypothesis is that, regardless of format or content, attempting problems alone increases their performance more than the other two options… mostly because it forces them to face the truth about what they can and can’t do independently.

    Any thoughts about what the “overthinking” student means? I’ve noticed a strong correlation in my classroom between students using the word “overthinking” the phrase “I can’t put it into words/I can’t understand the wording.” I am at a loss to understand what’s going on.

    • Joss Ives says:

      Hi Mylene.

      I’m pretty sure I couldn’t come up with the time to work on the practice quizzes in class. The quizzes already take up the majority of one of our three meeting days. I do have “help desk”-style office hours on each of the 3 days leading up to the weekly quiz and students do come work on the quizzes there. And it is interesting to note that it is more students than I have had for comparable office hours in the past when those previous students had weekly (for marks) homework assignments, less thorough practice quizzes and a weekly quizzes.

      I really like your point about students attempting questions alone vs with friends. This same reasoning is why I stopped giving them solutions for my clicker-question, in class whiteboard activities, practice quizzes and even quizzes after they have been returned. Now I just give them the answer because I want them to figure out and understand for themselves why that given answer is correct. In the past it felt like too many students would read my solutions and think they understood the question but still could not correctly answer a very similar question.

      As for the “overthinking” part. I know that, at least with the clicker questions, they often get to a point where they no longer trust their “gut” answers because the distractors are usually designed for the “gut” answers to be wrong. But I think that for some students this creates a bad cycle (which is why I try to have lots of easy “confidence builder” clicker questions as well”) where they assume that the first answer they figure out must be incorrect and play intellectual contortion games trying to figure out some other reasonable answer that doesn’t agree with their first.

      • Mylene DiPenta says:

        *laugh* Good point about the “intellectual contortions” that happen when students try to figure out answers by ruling out their gut instinct, instead of by evaluating the solution’s coherence… I’ll keep an eye out for this.

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