Monday, December 13, 2010

Last Minute Heroics?

Some of the students in my big intro to IR class have been organizing study groups today on the course webpage.  This is very much last minute as the exam is on Wednesday morning.   This has prompted a bunch of questions:
  • Is there a bit of selection bias in terms of the participants?  The desperate and the poorly organized?  If so, will these kids be helping each other or actually harming since they might be sharing the best notes?
  • Are they just trying to live up to one of the course concepts---the shadow of the future.  That is, we discount tomorrow compared to today and two days from now even more and so on, so that the value of the exam is only now being appreciated as a significant event worthy of planning, studying, organizing, etc.
  • How severe will the free-riding be? I taught them the problems involved with collective action, so will some folks decide to join the groups but only to take and not to give?
  • Is it ironic (apparently I have not been using that word correctly) that their efforts are likely to be unhelpful precisely because previous generations of McGill students pushed me to make my exams more about thinking than memorization?  Not ironic just apropos, I suppose.  This last minute cramming, where students hope to learn from others who have done the reading, is unlikely to help much when the question asks them to think and make an argument.
So, I am very interested in asking the students who are forming these groups whether it helped them.  I'd love to do a survey to see who did join a study group, who joined one at the last minute, and who went without and see if it mattered.  But getting folks to do a survey after the class is pretty hard to do.


Will Heller said...

Extra credit--if some x percent of the class responds to the survey (anonymous, of course), you give some (trivial, but enough to put people on the border between grades into the higher category) extra-credit points.

Chris C. said...

If study groups are anything like I remember them from undergrad:

-The chief organizers are the most type-A people in the class.
- Attendance will likely be surprisingly high.
-Most of the best students will not show up.
-The impact will actually be higher on the students who teach the other students, since they'll develop better mastery of the material and know how to explain it better.

Also: 2 days before the test is not last minute. I've seen last-hour cram sessions spontaneously erupt before.

Chloe said...

As a student in your intro class who hasn't joined a study group, I'd say that there are 2 types of study groups and 2 types of students in those study groups.

The study groups:
- the last-minute counterproductive ones
- the last-minute but productive study groups: discussing the main themes intelligently (it requires getting lucky if going the webct route)

The people:
- the overachiever who has completed most of their studying and now wants more
- the underachiever who has waited until the very last minute to do everything

And I would be happy to do a survey.

Steve Saideman said...

Hmmm. I guess I can set one up easily enough. Getting turnout will be a challenge. I will think about it.

And thanks for the feedback.