Sorry, Paula Abdul, but I had to steal a song lyric from you.
AND MANGLE IT!
I’ve been marking the first “process awareness” written report from my first-year students. A one-page PDF that shows their reflections on their timeliness and assignment performance to date and how they think that they can improve it or maintain it. There have been lots of interesting results from this. From about 100 students, I’ve seen many reports along the lines of “I planned, I assigned time, SO WHY DIDN’T I FOLLOW THE PLAN?” or “Wow, I never realised how much I needed a design until I was stuck in the middle of a four-deep connection of dynamic arrays.”
This is great – understanding why you are succeeding or failing allows you to keep doing the things that work, and change the things that don’t. Before this first-year curriculum restructure, and this course, software development process awareness could avoid our students until late second- or third-year. Not any more. You got run over by the infamous Library prac? You know, you should have written a design first. And now my students have all come to this realisation as well. Two of my favourite quotes so far are:
“[Programming in C++] isn’t hard but it’s tricky.”
“It’s not until you have a full design [that you can] see the real scope of the project.”
But you know I’m all about measurement so, after I’d marked everything, I went back and looked at the scores, and the running averages. Now here’s the thing. The assignment was marked out of 10. Up until 2 hours before the due date, the overall average was about 8.3. For the last two hours, the average dropped to 7.2. The people commenting in the last two hours were making loose statements about handing up late, and not prioritising properly, but giving me enough that I could give them some marks. (It’s not worth a lot of marks but I do give marks for style and reflection, to encourage the activity.) The average mark is about 8/10 usually. So, having analysed this, I gave the students some general feedback, in addition to the personalised feedback I put on every assignment, and then told them about that divide.
The fact that the people before the last minute had the marks above the average, and that the people at the last minute had the marks below.
One of the great things about a reflection assignment like this is that I know that people are thinking about the specific problem because I’ve asked them to think about it and rewarded them with marks to do so. So when I give them feedback in this context and say “Look – planned hand-in gets better marks on average than last-minute panic” there is a chance that this will get incorporated into the analysis and development of a better process, especially if I give firm guidelines on how to do this in general and personalised feedback. Contextualisation, scaffolding… all that good stuff.
There are, as always, no guarantees, but moving this awareness and learning point forward is something I’ve been working on for some time. In the next 10 days, the students have to write a follow-up report, detailing how they used the lessons they learnt, and the strategies that they discussed, to achieve better or more consistent results for the next three practicals. Having given them guidance and framing, I now get to see what they managed to apply. There’s a bit of a marking burden with this one, especially as the follow-up report is 4-5 pages long, but it’s worth it in terms of the exposure I get to the raw student thinking process.
Apart from anything else, let me point out that by assigning 2/10 for style, I appear to get reports at a level of quality where I rarely have to take marks away and they are almost all clear and easy to read, as well as spell-checked and grammatically correct. This is all good preparation and, I hope, a good foundation for their studies ahead.