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New Adjunct Math Professor at Community College

by puzzlelover1
Tags: adjunct, college, community, math, professor
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Moonbear
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Feb25-12, 09:50 PM
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Okay, Woopydalan seems to be doing a good job of presenting the "What students want," view. I'll offer suggestions to turn that into "what students need."

I think it's a fair request that students not be surprised by what will appear on an exam. That does NOT mean you have to spoon feed everything in your lectures. Students are smarter than they give themselves credit for if you give them a chance to learn to learn.

I give a list of learning objectives at the beginning of every lecture. It gives the students some guidance on what you want them to know. I change the specificity of those objectives based on the level of the class. For example, for the freshmen, they are very detailed and specific, "Be able to define the terms..., Describe the steps in the process..., Apply X to Y types of problems..." For advanced courses (in my case, med students), they get broader, such as, "Apply your knowledge of... to novel scenarios."

I then write my exam questions based on the learning objectives...that way I'm sure to test on what I told them they should learn.

Now, back to the "obscure questions not covered in lecture" issue. I do more or less spoon feed freshmen. They come from so many backgrounds and have such a range of study skills that I use the freshmen class simply as an equalizer. Once they are sophomores, I step up my expectations. They need to develop more study skills then, and very much need to learn to read their books...and I tell them they didn't spend so much on books to use them to level coffee tables. But, it doesn't need to be sudden immersion. Instead, I give them specific pages they are responsible for reading on their own and guarantee a test question on it. I also make sure they have homework on it to check they understand and can ask questions if they don't.

By the time they get to med school, I do give a larger number of pages to read and tell them I can pull questions from the text in those pages even if I don't get to it in lecture...at that stage, they need to learn it all. Still, it's not going to be a subtle, obscure point. If something obscure is actually important, that should be in the lecture.

If your school does student evaluations of teaching, use them. You may want a stiff drink or two before reading your first evaluations, and keep in mind some students just use them to vent about frustration over grades, but look for the ones that give constructive suggestions that are things you can reasonably change.
moouers
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Feb25-12, 10:18 PM
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Quote Quote by Woopydalan View Post
Don't test on obscure stuff. Keep the tests really the same as the notes
The following is from a student's perspective...

Yes, keep it to the notes...but only somewhat! Keep in mind that you will have students that truly want to be challenged and will work very hard in your classes. Perhaps design the majority of the test questions in accordance with the notes, but also consider adding a bonus question or two (doesn't have to be worth many points) that really truly stretches the problem solving skills and creativity of your stronger students. I absolutely love it when my professors do this -- not because I get more points, but because I get to exercise my brain and stretch my imagination. Just a suggestion!
Woopydalan
#21
Feb25-12, 10:18 PM
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I think for math, what I mean is to give middle of the road problems for the tests. For example, you know tests are high stress for some students and it really sucks to have a ''tee hee I put a problem with a quirk in it that requires you to remember a trig identity you used once in your life but never did again, and now you need it to solve this question!''
Moonbear
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Feb26-12, 04:53 PM
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Actually, a good test has a range of difficulty for the questions. Some should be very easy (and I prefer putting them toward the beginning to help calm nerves with some softballs), some intermediate, and some difficult. Match the percentage of each type to your grading scale. Those who can only answer questions exactly like those done in class are generally just passing with Cs. Those who can do some harder ones, but mostly they still need to be similar to homework, should generally be in the B range. Those who have mastered the material to answer the new questions that require applying what they've learned without seeing an identical question before should get the As. If you have plus and or minus grades, you can play with those difficulty ranges.
Andy Resnick
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Feb26-12, 08:24 PM
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I agree with Moonbear- we use the phrase "aim for the B student".
mathwonk
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Feb28-12, 02:45 PM
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cheating on tests and assignments is also a problem that one must come to terms with. It can be very disconcerting to take up a test, and when grading them realize convincingly that some one has copied someone else or has copied something from a hidden source onto the test, especially if you noticed that person acting suspiciously during the test, but did nothing at the time.

Cheating is unusual in that usually only one or two persons in a class of 30 or so who does it, but it is often the case that there is at least one. And that one person can cause you a lot of stress.

If all you have is the fairly obvious fraudulent results after the fact, but you did nothing at the time it occurred, then you really have no proof and are in the unpleasant position of pretty much having to give a fraudulent grade to the cheater. It is depressing how often, when one sees a suspicious situation and does nothing at the time hoping it is illusory, that one does find very unlikely results on the test afterwards.

Some possible strategies include giving more than one test, to alternate rows of students so that no one can easily see the same test in anyone else's hands.

Another way I used for a long time, was to monitor the test, and simply ask anyone who looked suspicious to move to the front where cheating was not feasible. I did this very quietly and politely without giving a reason, and it worked pretty well, but is a little stressful.

Oddly enough the best solution I found was in my old age, when I became less concerned about the strictness of my grades, and I wanted to give every student the best chance possible to succeed, I simply began to help students during the test. if I saw a student glancing around, I would go back and ask if they were stuck. Usually they said yes, and then I would just help them with a hint. Sometimes I would then come up and write that hint on the board if I thought everyone should have it to be fair. This way sometimes a student points out an unclear question you need to clarify too.

Sometimes they said no. But this gave them the knowledge that I could see what they were up to, and took away the motivation to cheat, since I was willing to help them. After all my hints were worth more than a fleeting glimpse at some other paper. It seems too if they feel you are willing to help as much as you can, cheating is less likely.

I do not know how common cheating is, in some form or other. Maybe some students do not understand that using any form of assistance without acknowledging it is essentially cheating. One thing I did notice was that scores on homework, where cheating was possible, were always much higher than on tests where it was harder to cheat.

Some students complained regularly that the tests were harder than the homework, when actually the opposite was true. The problems were easier but they found them harder. The only difference was that the tests were not open book. It seems some students could benefit from learning to do homework under test conditions, or at least learn to practice for tests under test conditions beforehand.

Interestingly the best students score higher on tests than on homework, since they use the homework opportunity properly, to learn, while the desperate student uses the homework incorrectly, to pad his low score. Since the hw counted 15% and the tests counted 85%, this also showed a certain lack of grasp of the mathematics of grading.
Andy Resnick
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Feb28-12, 07:49 PM
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I agree with Mathwonk (and I like your strategy of offering help during an exam)- my solution has been to make the exams open book/open note. I also have a "choose some out of many questions" structure to the exam, which makes it less likely to see your neighbor working on the same problem. Honestly, I haven't seen any (obvious) cheating yet.
Moonbear
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Feb28-12, 10:48 PM
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I give multiple versions of the same exam, but I imagine it's harder to copy on a math test where you need to show work than on my multiple choice exams. I'm never sure how much suspicious behavior is actually cheating, and how much is just students trying to see if their friends are done ahead of them. Another approach is to use seating charts for exams so students don't sit next to the friend they expected to copy from. I was somewhat devious about my charts when I had classmates of a student accuse one of cheating. My seating chart after that put the student on an aisle in the back of the room where one of the proctors usually sat, and that left only two seats in front of that student that could have still been in range (I also staggered rows and alternated seats as much as I had room to do). Those seats were occupied by the two students with the lowest grades in the class. At that point, if the suspect wanted to copy from the exams of those in front of her, I knew it wasn't going to help her grade.

I teach huge lectures and have only had a few definite cheating incidents in my career. Mostly, it's about prevention. On that note, learn what your school's policies are before you give your first test. One school didn't permit proctors to do anything during an exam other than to linger more often in the area of a suspected cheater and carefully note their actions. Their view was that it disrupts the exam and violated due process by taking action in front of the whole class before the student could dispute charges of cheating, and they might perform poorly the rest of the exam from added anxiety. Others want proctors to intervene as soon as they see something suspicious.
Andy Resnick
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Feb29-12, 07:37 AM
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Quote Quote by Moonbear View Post
<snip>On that note, learn what your school's policies are before you give your first test.
This is an excellent point! We (academic misconduct committee) heard a case during winter break, and we concluded that not only was there insufficient evidence of cheating, we also admonished the faculty member for being an a$$ (using more professional language, obviously).
mathwonk
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Feb29-12, 01:46 PM
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I agree that prevention is everything. I have never turned a student in for cheating even though I have had rather egregious cases of it in 40+ years. Basically you can't prove it, and if you do prove it the student really suffers a lot more than is probably warranted. So you need to prevent it.

Look at what happened in the case Andy mentioned. The faculty member may have been fairly sure of himself to bring a case against a student, and yet without adequate evidence, the committee felt it right to admonish the faculty member. Or maybe he really was a jerk. Of course the committee could proceed only on the evidence presented and was possibly annoyed at being involved in a weak case.

Put yourself in that faculty member's place. The faculty member may have felt he had no other recourse, since the rules often require him to bring the case rather than deal with it himself. If you know for certain in your heart someone has cheated but cannot present reasonable proof, you may feel you owe it to justice to present your case, but no one wants hear it.

I have had a junior faculty member come to me laughing at the blatant cheating that he had seen through the door of my classroom once during a test when my head was turned. He saw two students he knew exchanging and copying their papers. When graded, the two tests involved were identical, down to the punctuation.

When I mentioned to the students they had been seen cheating and threatened punishment, one of them hunted down and threatened the witness who then became frightened and angry at me for involving him and refused to repeat his testimony. He said it was up to me to deal with it alone. Without him I had only circumstantial evidence.

You would think it fair to give such students the chance to retake the test, either immediately or after restudying, but even this is not allowed by some rules. All you can do is go to the committee.

I assure you, you never want to be in this situation. Either prevent it, or let it go and learn from it.

A more recent event in this age of technology was an ad that was noticed on Craig's list offering to pay $15 per solution for problems that would be posted during an exam set for that same day. We informed the professor, whose class was identifiable from the ad, and he took up all the cell phones.
Moonbear
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Mar1-12, 08:10 PM
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Fortunately, where I currently work has a pretty fair procedure for handling suspected cheating. It's basically a 3 tier process and can be stopped at any point with a notation in the student's disciplinary record. The first tier is with the faculty member who teaches the course. At that stage, the student can accept responsibility and sanction (such as retaking a test, or grade of zero) at which point it ends, or they don't accept responsibility and it goes to mediation with the dept chair. At this point, it's possible to plea down to a "lesser charge." For example, a student might admit to having unauthorized materials in the exam room, but claims they didn't use them, so you can get this on record and now require they have a front row seat for all remaining exams. If they still deny wrong-doing and the faculty member and chair still think there are sufficient grounds to continue, it goes to the schoolwide academic conduct committee for a full hearing. At every stage, there's documentation, so it's possible that if a repeated incident occurs for the same student and the next faculty member also decides to settle on a minor reprimand unaware of previous incidents, when the documentation goes to the academic conduct office, they can decide to bring it to a full hearing based on a pattern of repeated misconduct, so there's pretty strong motivation if caught once to never cheat again, even if let off lightly. At the same time, it gives faculty more leeway to give the student a second chance and not have one mistake end their entire academic career if they never do it again. It also means you can document it even when your witnesses get cold feet, especially when they are classmates of the suspect.

Another university had no steps between accusation and full hearing with lawyers mainly grilling the faculty as if they were the guilty party. I only did that once before deciding the only lesson learned by the student is that they can get away with anything if they can afford a lawyer, so you might as well just let them get away with it and spare yourself the hassle of the hearing.
Moonbear
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Mar1-12, 08:23 PM
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Quote Quote by mathwonk View Post
A more recent event in this age of technology was an ad that was noticed on Craig's list offering to pay $15 per solution for problems that would be posted during an exam set for that same day. We informed the professor, whose class was identifiable from the ad, and he took up all the cell phones.
I don't allow students to have anything at their desk during an exam except their pencils and erasers and a beverage in a container with no labels (I won't explain why to avoid giving anyone ideas if they don't know already). All backpacks, jackets, caps, etc., get piled at the front of the room. Cell phones off and in the backpack. Then as I hand out the exams, I look for earbuds. During cold and flu season, I bring tissues and hard candies to hand out as needed for sniffles and coughs.
genericusrnme
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Mar1-12, 08:37 PM
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I'm no lecturer but I have done some tutoring on calc and precalc.
My advice would be to enjoy what you're doing and project your enthusiasm about it!
mathwonk
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Mar1-12, 09:24 PM
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moonbear rocks!


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