It is often a challenge to gain insight into undergraduate study habits. Students can list the resources at their disposal and can explain the benefits of well-understood techniques (e.g. study groups, individual meetings/tutoring, time management); however, the same students will often ignore the warning signs of academic trouble and resort to poor habits (e.g., web searches for assignment answers). Additionally, students often believe that the knowledge from class doesn’t need to be retained beyond one assignment, quiz, or exam, regardless of if they fail the assignment or evaluation.
While it is primarily the students’ obligation to seek help when needed, the instructor must also provide avenues for success for the students, by providing structures for student improvement, not just answers and keys. The work presented here describes an effort to (a) seek insights into the student mindset regarding improving their own knowledge and (b) guide students towards reliable resources (videos, slides, websites) to help them with their future studies. As a secondary effect, student grades are improved and students expressed gratitude for the ability to safeguard their grade from a potentially simple mistake.
In a junior-level programming course at Wentworth Institute of Technology, students learning C++ and related concepts had to take a total of nine 10-15 minute quizzes over the course of a 14 week lecture schedule. These quizzes were graded and returned, typically within 2-5 days. If a student earned a grade below 80, they could meet with the instructor within a week and provide new answers for the quiz questions, which, if correct, resulted in a higher grade (maximum of 79). Students were then asked to share how they came to the new/correct answers, whether from websites, videos, peers, or other resources. These resources were not factored into the grade but were used to help guide that student and the entire class to useful resources. If a student were using potentially incorrect or weaker sources, the instructor corrected it. If the sources were strong, they could be shared with other students to help the entire class build a database of useful resources.
A similar, but separate retake policy was also implemented in a junior-level Signals & Systems course, where students were able to retake examinations, in order to improve their grade and better understand the material. This process is discussed and compared to the retake policy in the programming course.
This work is still in its preliminary phase, with this paper describing the pilot run of the retake process. Despite the early time-frame, this work will share several key insights useful to instructors in programming and in unrelated fields. First, a statistical study in how students took advantage of the opportunity to improve their grades and what sort of impact it had on that student’s grades, in both the short and the long-term of the course (for example, did their future quiz grades improve before utilizing the retake policy). At the same time, quiz grades were meant only an assessment tool, and student knowledge retention is explored, as revealed through a final quiz and survey questions. Next, this work discusses what resources the students were using for both individual concepts and across the entire course. This will help instructors understand to where current students turn when they need help or additional information, as well as provide potentially useful tools to instructors of similar courses. Further insights gained through the analysis is also shared, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to help prepare students for better decision making regarding studying and resources.
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