Sunday, April 9, 2017

Workload in the flipped course

The problem

Figure 1. Amount of work (2017)
My flipped course requires online preparation, taking online quizzes, and participation in the lecture-discussion. Is this too much work? Both my 2016 and 2017 students thought so by a considerable margin (Fig. 1). How much work is expected?

According to the UC Davis catalog: "Units of credit are assigned to courses based on 1 unit of credit for three hours of work by the student per week. Usually this means one hour of lecture or discussion led by the instructor and two hours of outside preparation by the student." For a four-credit course such as this, eight hours of work is expected. Eight x ten weeks in the quarter = 80 hours. Canvas logged time is in average 140 hours. If these are real work hours, then the coursework might be too much.

In all fairness, the course structure focused students on genetics and this was acknowledged by many students. From the anonymous reviews:

  • "I really liked the amount of homework required for this class.  It really forced me to put in the effort and learn the material before exams.  Plus I liked that the homework broke the material up into smaller chunks. "
  • "I enjoyed the fact that the course made me study everyday compared to the other courses. It really promoted active learning and really forced me to use basic concepts to answer difficult questions. "
  • Figure 2. Time on Canvas vs. course grade
  • "I liked the flipped course. It was a lot of work but it prepared me and forced me to keep up with the class. And it made skipping lectures not an option."
A minimum amount of work is required. Interestingly, I could not find any relationship between the amount of extra work and the grade. For example, in the A-C range there is no relation between Canvas logged time and grade (Fig. 2). This suggests that either students vary in the amount of work they need to master the material, or that many students do unnecessary or unproductive work.

Solution 1

In 2017 I implemented a 20% drop policy. At the end of the course, the lowest 20% of test scores was reset to the student's corresponding point mean for the remaining 80%. Dropping and prorating was done independently for four categories: midterm exams, practice quizzes, module-end quizzes and lecture clicker sessions. Students love it and so do I.

It takes huge pressure off them and off me. Students can miss, for example, 5 of 25 lectures, or 3 of 15 MEQ and still be fine. I avoid all the assorted overhead that would be required if students are held to 100% compliance. Baja trip for your cousin February wedding? Not an official excuse item, but some students would plead incessantly for mercy, nonetheless. This way, no problem: Vaya con Dios! Fight with significant other screwed up midterm exam preparation and performance? No problem. Got drunk and could not wake up the midterm day? You get the idea.

Implementing solution 1

Figure 3. Effect of the 20% drop and prorate action on
clicker scores. Each dot represents a student.  
Coming up with the concept was far easier than implementing it. Consider the challenge: for each student you have, for example, 25 clicker scores. Each clicker session has a different maximum value, ranging from 12 to 26, depending on the number of clicker questions in any given lecture. For each student you have to find the lowest 20%, calculate the mean for the remainder and prorate correspondingly. Not the calculation you want to do with paper and pencil. I am not sure that it is possible to do it with Excel either.

My solution was to use Python and Pandas. It worked well: Fig. 3 displays the plot of the adjusted score vs the original score. Python is a programming language and Pandas a Python library (a sub-language) to process large tables. If you have some programming knowledge, it is fairly straightforward to set it up. I plan to put the program (a Jupyter Notebook) on Github. In the mean time you can email me if you want the program.

Solution 2?

Well, solution 1 was not enough because students still complain. I think they have a point. True, you get  to drop your darkest moments, but you still have to study all the material if you want to stay afloat. So, the drop is a great stress remover, but the work is still due. So, how do I lighten up the curriculum? I require my students to study in depth items that are probably not covered in every genetics course. For example, LOD mapping in  family pedigree. It is quite satisfying to watch as eventually they all get it. But, that knowledge is gained with some sweat. And, if I drop it, they do not learn about LOD.... You see my conundrum?  Summary: I am still working on this one.

Poetic justice

For what it is worth, the flipped course is a lot of work for the teacher. According to the old Italian adage "Mal  comune, mezzo gaudio" [=common trouble, half a feast], this knowledge should lessen the students' pain. How much work for the teacher? Canvas counted 530 hours. These seem too many. Some of these were likely logged when my computer was idle. Nonetheless, this suggests that I spent 3X the mean student time on Canvas. A lot of work was required to prepare the online content in 2016. In 2017, additional time was required for fixing the modules and the quizzes. Part of the work is off Canvas, such as when new videos are made. Implementing the 20% drop, for example, took me 15 hours (I am a slow programmer). It is an important consideration for would-be-flippers: the formula I followed is a bit work-heavy on both sides of the teaching divide. Lots of room for improvement. Ultimately, it is plausible that teacher's and students' workloads would be similar to those of traditional courses.

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