Monday, November 15, 2010

A Quicky...Er...Thirsty Regarding Textbooks and Study Materials

So we've been talking about the ol' cheat-a-roo at UCF. What I would like to know, pursuant to that issue, is how many folks use textbooks that have student study sites with 'self-test' features, and how many folks use questions from the textbook publisher? If you're feeling brave, you might include your general area of academics.

I'll go first...I teach a Social Science and I used a textbook for the first time this year. Normally I use academic books and articles for this course, but I have a staggering number of students (for me at least, there are more than 150 and I have no TA or grader). So, I thought I'd use the textbook because it would help me create objective questions that were less prone to grade-grubbing. The students used the self-tests, although these seemed to generate a fair bit of anxiety. I used some of the publisher's questions and some of my own.

NB: The questions that students get in the self-test are different from those we, as instructors, can download from test banks. We do not get access to those test banks without being verified (in this case by my department secretary) as instructors at our universities.

I noticed a bimodal distribution in my grades, just like the UCF prof. I assumed that this had to do with whether or not people used the online study materials, as I ASKED them whether they had done so. At the end of the test, I wrote:

You were given permission to use the publisher's online study materials to help you prepare for this exam. Did you use them? (Y/N)

I told them that they wouldn't be punished (because obviously I'd said they could use the resources!) but that I was curious about how the materials affected people's overall grades.

Lo and behold...the online studiers averaged 7 points more on the exam...perhaps because of their online experience, and/or perhaps they generally studied harder than the other folks.

Now...I've put Miz O'Hara up there because my textbook rep closely resembles her. For real. Our meetings are completely bizarre. Recently she sprung upon me as I happened to be...uh...reviewing some photographs of Atom Smasher's most recent rugby game and she promptly inquired "Now, which one's your boyfriend? They're ALL cuties..."

Uh. Er. Um.

Miz O'Hara tells me that students who use the on-line study materials generally score 10 points higher on exams than those who do not...I imagine I only had a 7 point difference because I did not use material strictly from the book.

What are your experiences?


  1. I've just started an experiment where I give students bonus points for every online problem set they do; it doesn't matter how high they score. I'm finding a bimodal distribution that's a bit different:

    Both my best and my almost-worst students are using the sets, about equally; the mediocre ones and the very bad ones are not.

    The online problems track the text problems, sort of. My exams use problems directly out of the textbook (slightly altered, usually), and some that I write myself for more difficult concepts and things the book doesn't discuss properly.

    Field: chemistry.

  2. I hate to be so obvious, but a good deal of my textbook assignments are just readings about building essays that we don't necessarily cover in class verbatim. The students of mine who BUY, AND use the text, always perform better on the essays because they and I share a common understanding of what's expected.

  3. My experience? If I don't directly attach a point value to it, they don't do it. Exam prep is too vague of a concept to equate to "worth points" in their brains.

  4. I give worksheets from a popular book of reproducibles for HIGH SCHOOL science as "extra credit". I make it worth a small part of a small part of their grade. It works out to less than a point on their overall average, but the ones who ask for extra credit are never very good at math in the first place, so they don't realize this. This is not extra credit I offer because some baby came and whimpered for it through a snotty nose at the end of the term. This is one of two extra credit options that are described in the syllabus. (They still come asking "if" there is any extra credit. I need a prerecorded "RTFS" message.) It's on-going. Every chapter involves at least one, sometimes two, of these baby worksheets. They ask how many points it's worth and I say "Not many, but the experience of going through the worksheet will result in test scores so much better that you won't need the points anyway." And without fail, the ones who do the worksheets create one grade distribtion, the ones who do not create a second, less good, grade distribution. And the separation of the distributions is always greater than the number of points the assignment was worth anyway.

    I don't know if this is truly related to the actual question, but I think it's at least a close tangent.

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  6. I try to use the least amount of junk provided by the publisher as possible. The writing is stiff; the argument banal; the logic obvious. Of the four undergraduate courses I teach, two have a textbook.

    In one instance, the survey course has the same textbook regardless of who is teaching it. In the other instance, the textbook is simply too good not to use.

    The rest of the stuff is expensive rubbish.

  7. i have never used a math book with an online section, but I know others who taught a class solely on the computer. The students hated the use of technology as it took some learning in how to type in the problems. (Hint: There is almost never such a thing as too many parentheses when typesetting mathematics. Second Hint: Students do not call the symbols by their names so, if they ask about the "upper," they mean "^", not the meth you deal on the side to make up for being an adjunct.)

    Mathsquatch *Breaking Bad is a great show* Out.

  8. Neither of these comments belong anywhere, but I'm going to ride off Mathsquatch's last comment and use it as an excuse to place them here...

    I had one unruly class asking me a bunch of... not personal, but not their business crap. First they wanted to know if I liked local NL team or AL team, then dogs or cats etc. etc. (this was while I graded labs during lab and tried to drown them out - I know I know - never let them see you grade) When they got to "Do you watch Mad Men?" I just started asking questions back. I asked them if they watched Breaking Bad and told them it was the best show ever to raise their interest. They asked what it was about and I said "What disgruntled chemistry teachers do in their spare time." and the very next episode Walt blew up Tuco's office. They must have been curious and watched because the next week they were altar boys.

    And also in from comment diaspora (my head) is... It was a great relief to find my copy of the Led Zepplin box set that I'd put on MP3 8 years ago when I had an MP3 player because my new car has an MP3 player and now I can listen to Black Dog on demand and get it out of my head, because it gets in my head every time I "see" you. Also "Tangerine" makes me feel all hippie happy without drugs and that helps save flake lives (academically speaking anyway).


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