This is the very last week of 2022 fall semester so it’s a good time for me to do a short reflection about how it went. From the frequency of my posts in the past half a year, you can probably guess this is a very hectic semester for me. It’s my first semester going back to teach in-person since I joined the math department here in 2020 August. Many adjustments and way-finding (in literal sense) had to be done before I’m finally comfortable with equipment in lecture theatres, seating arrangements in smaller classrooms, the printer and scanning machines etc. I don’t know how other new hires survived their first semester. If you went through it, you know what I’m talking about.
I did mastery-based grading for one of my courses, MATH3120, and by the 3rd last week, I realized there is just too much work for myself to handle for a class of more than thirty students. I’m spending in average 4-5 hours per week outside classroom to have one-on-one meetings with students. And since the frequency of tests is much more often than a typical course, it means a lot more time spent on writing test questions, printing and marking. I just didn’t anticipate this amount of time required to pull it off. Students did show immense appreciation of the course structure and many of them told me they would not have done as well if not for the re-testing opportunities. They also enjoyed being able to do presentations, either in-person or online. By this point of the semester, they have done 134 presentations in total. I’m really proud of what they achieved in such a short semester. But would I do it again for a class of similar size? Probably not unless there is significant more support available from the department.
For my other course MATH2720, we did four short tests before the final exam. I changed the test format slightly: after test paper was distributed to students, they were asked to put away their pen, read through the test papers, and talked to their peers about these questions. This discussion period usually lasted 5-8 minutes. After that they wrote the test papers individually. They welcomed this format with enthusiasm and told me how helpful it was to address stress and anxiety associated with tests. We will be able to say more about its impact on student’s learning experience once we collect all relevant data, and conduct some interviews. I probably will keep this format for future tests if time allows.
Another lesson learnt is how useful it is to have a system to give students extensions for assessments when needed. I set up an Office Form the beginning of the semester where students can ask for assignment extensions. They don’t need to reveal why they need one. They only need to submit it to let me know how much extension they need so I can update it from my end. It was used 77 times by students from two courses. With this system in place, students who traditionally didn’t know it’s possible to ask for extensions now realize it’s possible and are comfortable to use it. I’d like to believe it made my courses more equitable and is definitely something I will keep for future courses.
I have more thoughts about community support both for students and junior faculty members but that will be for another post. Wish everyone a happy December and hopefully we can all rest a bit before Jan semester is here.