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Andy Miller - Negative feedback from students

Andy Miller - Negative feedback from students

by Arnold Pizer -
Number of replies: 0
inactiveTopicNegative feedback from students topic started 9/24/2006; 10:32:43 PM
last post 9/25/2006; 12:33:29 AM
userAndy Miller - Negative feedback from students  blueArrow
9/24/2006; 10:32:43 PM (reads: 135, responses: 1)
This is my first semester using WeBWorK in a class. I like having a free, open system that gives instant feedback to my students on their homework. Based on the sort of feedback I've seen from students at other universities, I thought my students would like it, too. Boy was I wrong!

I just got feedback from them regarding WeBWorK. Of the 24 responses, 10 were generally negative, 9 were neutral, and 5 were generally positive. Students reported struggling with the syntax and spending hours working on the problems, getting quite frustrated in the process. On the positive side, many of them did feel that it was good practice, and several students reported liking the instant feedback and the unlimited tries to get problems correct. The number of negative comments outweighed the positive by a 3:2 ratio. In fact, five students suggested getting rid of WeBWorK altogether.

Learning the system and setting up homework sets, even using the Problem Libraray, is quite an investment of my time, especially because I often have to "tweak" the problems to more closely reflect my class. I really don't feel the need to take this time if my students are this unhappy with the system, unless I'm convinced that they're getting something out of it. The data I have suggests that they aren't: median scores on the last four WeBWorK assignments have been lower than a 60/100 (and on the latest assignment, only 30% of the class got higher than a 33/100); on the most recent exam, with several problems based on the WeBWorK homework, the class performed quite poorly; and many students reported on the feedback above that they often just give up or start guessing randomly on the WeBWorK problems.

Anyone have any response to this data? To provide some context: this is a single section of College Algebra at a smallish private regional comprehensive university. The section has 27 students. At my institution, College Algebra is remedial in the sense that students do not get mathematics general education credit for it nor does it count directly towards anyone's degree requirements, but students with weak math backgrounds (as measured by math ACT or SAT scores or an optional math placement exam) are required to take this class as a prerequisite for other required math classes (such as Elementary Statistics or Quantitative Methods for Business).

Edited to add: Of course, I realize that the WeBWorK and test scores could also mean that the students just aren't working hard enough, and that wouldn't surprise me. I did not seek to elicit that information on my feedback form, though, so for the sake of argument let's set that factor aside (unless you want to give me a suggestion for how I could encourage my students to work harder; somehow I don't think a mere "you're not working hard enough!" will do).

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userJohn Jones - Re: Negative feedback from students  blueArrow
9/25/2006; 12:33:29 AM (reads: 208, responses: 0)

Here are a few thoughts based on our experience.

If you have particular students who say that they have syntax problems, use the view past answers feature. You can see every answer they submitted to a given problem. You can probably see if the difficulty really is syntax, or that they are having some other kind of error. In my experience, it is usually the latter.

It sounds like the students are relatively weak mathematically. This may cause them two problems. First, they are not as solid on their math syntax, so it is more of a big grey area for them. Second, weaker math students tend to be less good at diagnosing their own math difficulties.

The next problems may also affect weak students more. Some students have unrealistic expectations about their math homework. For example, some feel that they can sit down and do an assignment in one sitting. If they are getting a problem wrong, they just keep at it. This is working hard, but not working very effectively.

Most of these problems can be helped by the advice: when a student gets stuck, they should consult a human. They should try to fix a wrong answer once or twice, but if they feel stuck, it is time to see a tutor or teacher or someone who can diagnose their problem. Humans are infinitely better at this than computers, and webwork does not try to diagnose problems.

This may mean that they have to start their homework sooner so they can try it, and then go for help on the ones they got wrong. I would tell them that webwork will help isolate the problems they need to ask about, and then they get help on them, and then hopefully still collect credit. All in all, this approach will take less of their time, they will be frustrated less, and will learn more.


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