02 3 / 2012
Why Don’t Students Ask Questions?
We wanted to further investigate why students do not give immediate feedback to the teacher in a lecture or class, and Bertrand and Daniel went out and interviewed new students to understand their mindset:
- “I never raise my hand.”
- “I’m slow, so it’s difficult to quickly come up with a good question.”
- “I’m okay asking questions 1 on 1, but I don’t do it even in small groups.”
- “Often I have a basic conceptual question and I don’t want to ask it because I should know the answer.”
- “It would be helpful to know what the rest of the class thinks.” Repeated by all students!
- Big lecture < small classroom < office hours if you want to comfortably ask questions.
- Reasons for not speaking up: embarrassment in front of other students who don’t know them, don’t want to take up other students’ time.
- Students generally aren’t comfortable giving direct performance feedback to the teacher, especially during class; they want to do it privately and anonymously to save face for themselves and the teacher.
- Students are more comfortable asking questions if they know that others have the same question.
- Students are more comfortable asking questions if they know the other students personally.
- It’s hard to speak up during a lecture for two reasons - classroom culture, and size / anonymity.
- “I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ in class who is holding everyone back - I want to do something that helps me but is also good for everyone else.”
- “What if I could give stress-free, anonymous performance feedback to the teacher and have them act on it?”
We think these new insights give us some ways to improve our previous prototype “clicker” system to include a way to give the professor immediate feedback. Students still are able to press a “help” button on their clicker or phone and a program records when during the class this button was pressed.
We show the professor, in lecture, a graphic that shows “student confusion” as a function of time. They can see how well understood their comments just were, and it allows them to go back after class and look at what parts of their presentation need to be clarified and improved, by looking at what timestamps had the most confusion.
This professor-facing interface is added to the student-facing one that shows the whole class the current level of “student confusion” to still address the insight that students will feel more comfortable being active learners if they can see the status of their peers.
- If students have their phones out, will be tempted to goof off? Prevent students who leave the app from giving feedback?
- Is a generic indicator of “confusion” enough information to convey to students about their peers?
- What about students who don’t have smart phones?
- Students might down-vote difficult sections that are still necessary. They are not the best judges of learning content.
- Feedback isn’t constructive. This puts a lot of demand on the teacher to be a good performer; will this frustrate teachers who get bad feedback?
We have scheduled testing the teacher-facing part of new prototype in two smaller, seminar settings this coming week. We’ll report back.