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Questions Regarding a Semester Project

  • #1
sams
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I want to include a semester project for an undergraduate course for this semester. As a new lecturer, I was wondering about several aspects of this project and I would like to gain a deep insight of the following:

1. What subjects should I choose? Should they be related to the topics that are being taught during the semester (which I prefer to do) or not? What if these subjects, I chose, were advanced to the students, because I am concerned that some of the students may find it hard to prepare one of these subjects?

2. In fact, it is a Team Based Learning project that consists of a presentation and a written report, how many students do you suggest should be in each team, if the total number of students in the class is 20, in order to prevent any issues during their preparations? Note: The students come from different fields: physics, mathematics, and engineering!

3. Most importantly, 15% of the final grade will be allocated to this project which is equivalent to 15 points out of 100, how do you think should be the grading criteria of the project and how do you suggest to distribute the points according to your suggested grading criteria? I want to make a distribution that would be fair and reasonable. I really appreciate if anyone could provide a detailed criterion as well as a fair distribution. The grading criteria should be provided to students in advance prior the start of their preparations.

Any advice, suggestions, other aspects I should consider, or sharing your experience (if possible) is much appreciated
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
kuruman
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Students tend to procrastinate and leave everything for the last moment. More than half the students in a class are "negative timers". They estimate how long it will take them to complete an assignment and count backwards from the deadline to decide when to start. Often their estimate is wrong because they hit snags that they cannot resolve in a timely manner. It is, therefore, important to set a firm timetable and stick to it. By awarding points at each stage, you enforce the idea that preparing over the entire time of completion is the proper way to work on projects.

For example, say you have 14 weeks in the semester. By the end of the second week students have to submit a proposal of what they are going to do or select a topic from the ones you offered. Doing this on time will award them 1 out of the 15 points (say). By the end of the 6th week, they turn in a preliminary report showing what they have done so far and what is left to be done. That is worth 4 points, you be the judge of how many of the 4 they get, depending on their thoroughness and and on how convincing they are that they know what they are doing and why. This is your chance to redirect the project if necessary. The final project will be worth the remaining 10 points. Grading criteria might be (a) Is the focus of the project clearly presented? (b) Is the information, on which the conclusions are based, all there? (c) Do the conclusions follow from the premises? (d) Is the project understandable and in good English (do they know the difference between it's and its, or they're, there and their etc.) I know you are not an English teacher, but nevertheless they should be able to communicate effectively what's in their heads.

If they work together in a group, I think 3 in a group is ideal. Decision-making is easy because it's an odd number. The next odd number, 5 is too many in a group. However, watch out for members in a group who are not pulling their own weight. One way to deal with this is to allow the group to "vote them out" in which case the outcasts will have to complete the project on their own (or not). Of course you need to see evidence why this a last resort action.

I favor oral presentations of projects to the class since your class size is small(ish). One member of the group introduces the problem, places it in perspective and explains why it is worth pursuing; the second member presents the data or theory that is the means for addressing the problem; the third member ties it all together with the conclusions and discussion. I don't know what the level of your students is, but if they are intermediate-level undergraduates, they should be able to take an AJP article, understand it and then present it. You could go over the AJP list of recent articles and select those that match your course and your students' varied backgrounds in some way or another.
 
  • #3
vela
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1. What subjects should I choose? Should they be related to the topics that are being taught during the semester (which I prefer to do) or not? What if these subjects, I chose, were advanced to the students, because I am concerned that some of the students may find it hard to prepare one of these subjects?
You might have them choose their own topic so that they'll be interested in the project.

2. In fact, it is a Team Based Learning project that consists of a presentation and a written report, how many students do you suggest should be in each team, if the total number of students in the class is 20, in order to prevent any issues during their preparations? Note: The students come from different fields: physics, mathematics, and engineering!
Does it have to be teams? Good students despise getting stuck with a flake. Since their grades depend on the project, they're stuck picking up the slack while the flake benefits from the others' efforts. You really need to provide some mechanism to let a team realistically deal with a person who won't pull his or her weight.

3. Most importantly, 15% of the final grade will be allocated to this project which is equivalent to 15 points out of 100, how do you think should be the grading criteria of the project and how do you suggest to distribute the points according to your suggested grading criteria? I want to make a distribution that would be fair and reasonable. I really appreciate if anyone could provide a detailed criterion as well as a fair distribution. The grading criteria should be provided to students in advance prior the start of their preparations.
You said you wanted to include a project. What are your reasons for that? What do you hope the students will get out of it? You probably should know what those are so you can decide on criteria on which to evaluate the project.
 
  • #4
Andy Resnick
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I want to include a semester project for an undergraduate course for this semester. As a new lecturer, I was wondering about several aspects of this project and I would like to gain a deep insight of the following:
Several of us in the Department here do something like this, it can be an amazing experience, both for the students and for the instructor- I definitely encourage you to try this. For my Physics I course (approximately 40 students, mostly engineering majors), my group project is simply "Determine the efficiency of a car". My students never fail to come up with approaches I have not thought about- overall, the experience is amazing.

In regards to setting the groups: you should definitely assign students to groups rather than have the students self-assemble. We have the students fill out a brief survey (major, nationality, number of siblings, if they play a musical instrument, etc. etc) to make sure we have diverse groups. We typically assign groups of 3 (with some groups of 4 as needed), with an important caveat: if there are any females in a group, there are at least 2 women in the group. Educational research backs this up.

However, I can't give any other detailed suggestions because you haven't provided enough context, for example:

1) What kind of undergraduate course is this? An introductory-level course? An intermediate or advanced undergrad course? What is the subject/topic of the course?
2) How much in-class and out-of-class time do you intend to provide the students for this activity?
3) Why is there both an oral presentation *and* a written report?
4) What is your (educational) goal for having a group project?
 
  • #5
sams
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Thank you sirs for sharing your valuable experience and ideas. Really, I gained a deeper insight and I am now more aware about the challenges that I might encounter during the semester.
 
  • #6
sams
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You might have them choose their own topic so that they'll be interested in the project.
Does it have to be teams? Good students despise getting stuck with a flake. Since their grades depend on the project, they're stuck picking up the slack while the flake benefits from the others' efforts. You really need to provide some mechanism to let a team realistically deal with a person who won't pull his or her weight.
Actually yes, but I will try to find a way for such problem.

You said you wanted to include a project. What are your reasons for that? What do you hope the students will get out of it? You probably should know what those are so you can decide on criteria on which to evaluate the project.
Yes, exactly. In fact, it is a Mathematical Physics course. The topics chosen are somewhat related to the course and hence to the course objectives and learning outcomes. Thank you @vela for your help…
 
  • #7
sams
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1) What kind of undergraduate course is this? An introductory-level course? An intermediate or advanced undergrad course? What is the subject/topic of the course?
2) How much in-class and out-of-class time do you intend to provide the students for this activity?
3) Why is there both an oral presentation *and* a written report?
4) What is your (educational) goal for having a group project?
1) An intermediate undergraduate course: Mathematical Physics
2) in-class hours: zero hours
Out-of-class time: few hours per week in their homes.
3) Do you recommend one of them (only a presentation) or both?
4) It is a part of the grading system of the courses taught at our university. We are obliged to assign a Team Based Learning project that has a weight of 15 points out of 100.
 
  • #8
sams
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Thank you so much @kuruman for your detailed advice!
 
  • #9
sams
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What is the ideal time duration for each team or group presentation should I allocate? @kuruman @vela @Andy Resnick
I know it depends on the type of the project and on the number of teams, but, generally speaking, how long should be the presentation in terms of time?
Note: The class is divided into 6 groups (3 students in each group).
 
  • #10
kuruman
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I have allowed 15 min. with 10 min. of presentation and 5 min. for questions from the audience just like what you would expect at a professional meeting. In practice there were few questions, if any, because it seems that the audience didn't want to put their fellow students "on the spot" which, of course, defeats the purpose of the question period. Part of the exercise is to decide what is important to include in order to state one's case and most importantly what can be omitted without losing the audience. The extent to which that is accomplished could be part of your grading criteria. A planned short talk forces the students to think about and understand their topic well before presenting it. Don't forget to bring your cellphone or kitchen alarm clock and set them up in a prominent place. You should be able to fit 3 presentations in a 50-minute period with no difficulty if you keep moving them along. That means devoting the last two lectures (if you are on a 50 min. schedule) to this. This works well, considering that students tend to blow off the last two lectures because they "know" that nothing on them "is going to be on the final exam."
 
  • #11
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3
1. What subjects should I choose? Should they be related to the topics that are being taught during the semester (which I prefer to do) or not? What if these subjects, I chose, were advanced to the students, because I am concerned that some of the students may find it hard to prepare one of these subjects?
Maybe I'm too late replying for the current semester however hopefully my insight will be useful for future years.

I know in my own university that of the 30 odd projects the student base can choose from that 3 or 4 are related to making the course better. Of which, a past students project was in fact implemented this year. She suggested and said that in an age where students spend so much time on their smartphones why not use them in the lab and tutorial classes? This year, the students are using their smartphones to sign into a university server setup by their lecturer using a code posted on the board in the lecture that can track attendance.

She also noted how some students dislike answering questions in a crowded lecture hall and now the lecturer can ask questions to the class over the smartphones which can be answered for extra credit. To prevent students from abusing the system (i.e signing in while not being present) the app they use can be geo-fenced. Bluetooth microscopes were also used which give a live feed from the microscope to the students phone in real time.

Perhaps you could consider this type of project instead of a project directly related to what they are studying?

2. In fact, it is a Team Based Learning project that consists of a presentation and a written report, how many students do you suggest should be in each team, if the total number of students in the class is 20, in order to prevent any issues during their preparations? Note: The students come from different fields: physics, mathematics, and engineering!
Generally, you should decide your group sizes by work the expected/work required. More work required to be done = larger group. However given the class has only 20 students perhaps consider groups of 2's or 3's.

3. Most importantly, 15% of the final grade will be allocated to this project which is equivalent to 15 points out of 100, how do you think should be the grading criteria of the project and how do you suggest to distribute the points according to your suggested grading criteria? I want to make a distribution that would be fair and reasonable. I really appreciate if anyone could provide a detailed criterion as well as a fair distribution. The grading criteria should be provided to students in advance prior the start of their preparations.
For my own project which I did last year which was worth 20% of my grade (Intra-ocular lens designing for correcting aberrations of the cornea). 10% was given for a presentation on the project in front of 3 of my lecturers including my supervisor and the class, 5% was a grade given to me by my own supervisor based on work done and questions answered and the remaining 5% was awarded by the head of discipline after he reviewed my project.

Hope this helps.
 

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