19 1 / 2012
CS Office Hours Needfinding | David
I observed Bertrand’s computer science office hours, which had students from a few classes asking two TAs questions, and interviewed one of Bertrand’s classmate on her experiences.
- Multiple classes in the same space; they didn’t interact
- Often, the exact text of a homework problem needed to be looked up for clarity
- TAs would make up new, simple problems to demonstrate a specific concept
- When talking about a problem, students and TAs would forget the exact situation being described, but both could communicate because they remembered the concepts it was asking about
- Problems were worked out on whiteboard, on homework handout, and on homework to be turned in
- Whiteboard had no labels on it, only math, and context came from knowing when in the conversation it was written
- Whiteboard was completely freeform; pointing was used to bring spatially distant concepts together
- Students waited in line to talk to TA, but listened in on all conversations; even if had a similar question, waited to talk
- I was not privy to students working together
Some needs and thoughts from this observation:
- TA and students might benefit from directed collaboration; gather people that all want to discuss the same concept or problem together
- Does it make clarification more difficult for the TA if neither remembers the exact context of the problem? Students sometimes have difficulty extracting out the general concepts from specific examples, so I could see how this might be an issue
- Ad-hoc: everything written during the session is spur of the moment; you can’t walk in an hour later and decipher the whiteboard, so TA might have to re-explain; is there a need for the ad-hoc work to easily become more documented and formal?
I also interviewed a student from CS109:
- Comes to office hours to understand the process being taught, not just examples
- She must read something to understand it; doesn’t comprehend a lecture until rereading her notes
- Takes notes during office hours on other student’s discussions
- Has three notebooks for each class: scratch, lecture notes, and homework; sometimes can’t find the location of work
- Goes back through notes and highlights important things
- Knows things are important by looking at intersection of reading and lecture, seeing what professor is excited about
- TA explains best when using analogies to old problems
- TA needs an answer key; they know how to explain all the concepts, but it’s frustrating when they get lost not knowing how to string them together
- “I want immediate feedback”
- “On my own, I do things the easy way”
- “When I explains things, I see my own problems”
- TAs don’t “teach,” they “explain”
There are some needs that came out of this interview:
- For this student, note-writing is crucial; how do we make the taking of and the searching through notes easier?
- Are there ways outside of office hours to give immediate feedback or force students to explain their own work so they self-reflect?
- Can we make it easier for students to recognize what is important on the first pass?
- Should analogies be used more extensively in the teaching process, since they’re so effective? Do TAs need a stock list of analogies?
One general theme I see in the needfinding process is “recording:” how do people take and read notes, make and save scratch material, and share these materials.