Time for me to embrace being less helpful

Last night I was wide awake in the middle of the night thinking about changes I will want to implement in my courses next fall. Eventually I started to think about the study resources I provide my students and started to realize how counter-productive some of them are. The two specific examples that come to mind are providing solutions in the post-class notes to the clicker questions and whiteboard work that we do in class, and providing solutions to practice questions for the weekly quizzes.

It’s time for me to embrace being less helpful (thanks Dan Meyer).

Virtually none of my students take notes in my courses and it’s been getting worse as the terms pile up. The main thing that I do in class is use a lot of clicker questions, supported by some whiteboarding. I use a tablet PC to ink up the clicker question slides as we discuss them in class. And then after class I go through and further annotate all the slides so that there is a clear explanation of the correct answer to each clicker question that I used. And then I post these notes for the students.

What a great idea! This makes sure that, when studying, the students have access to a correct and coherent solution for each clicker question.

What a terrible idea! Knowing that those solutions will be posted, students feel no need to try to take notes.

I have tried on multiple occasions to pause for a couple of minutes to give the students the chance to write down their own explanations to the clicker questions after the whole-class discussion, but I only ever get a very small fraction of the students that take advantage of this time. It only occurred to me last night that the issue isn’t that I don’t usually give them time to write down their own explanations. The issue is that almost none of them feel the need to write down their own explanations because I provide “better” ones to them after class. Considering how much I try to communicate to them the importance of being able to communicate their own understanding, this is quite the sabotage job. Oops.

And it also dawned on me that the solutions to the practice questions I give them are also shortcutting their learning. It makes it way to easy for them to scan those practice questions instead of actually having to reason and work their way through those questions.

The expectations are already set in my current “lecture”-based course, but in the fall I’m going to embrace being less helpful and provide only the answers to the clicker questions and practice questions.