Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Inadvertent Flip

We're back after spring break, and it does appear that most of my students took a much-needed break. We kicked off our first week back with our second peer design review and then on Thursday we dug into file systems. So, today's post will revolve around two topics: observations from the peer design review and a discussion about class participation.

Peer Design Review

This was our second peer design review and I was struck by two things. First, it seemed that it took longer for the students to read through the design doc of their peer group. I speculated that perhaps the students had started writing more in-depth detailed designs, so I decided to ask about that in the week's web work (which are just short surveys at this point). Turns out that this was not what I was seeing -- about half the class claimed that the A3 design they reviewed was about the same quality as the A2 design they reviewed. And the other half were split as to which was better (there was a small tilt towards the A3 designs being better, but nothing huge).

The second thing I noticed was an overall spirit coming out of the discussions. They seemed genuinely happy to be talking about fault handling and page allocation. They also seemed surprised that when they asked the staff certain questions, they got multiple answers, "I did it this way." or "Oh yeah, I didn't do it that way, I did it some other way." I thought this was good -- there are rarely right or wrong answers in design but instead a set of tradeoffs to be considered. And seeing that the staff didn't necessarily agree but could engage in a discussion of tradeoffs and relative merits was valuable in and of itself.


I have always graded on class participation, believing all the research indicating that people learn better when they are engaged. I know that class participation is difficult for some, and I always let students know that they can earn participation points by sending email before or after class to discuss things that they found either challenging or interesting. At the same time, I tell those students that my goal is that by the end of the semester they do feel comfortable speaking up in class. And nearly every semester, they get there, and it's a wonderful thing for all of us.

Anyway, I always have students who never speak, never email, and never say anything about it. I've come to accept that as normal. Now, this year, I figured that participation grades were easy to come by because I consider web work and small group work in class part of participation. So I didn't worry too much about even my quietest students, because as long as they were in class, there was no way for them not to participate. Imagine my surprise when in the very same week, two of my students brought up the topic of participation. I was shocked. I'm convinced that this never would have happened if I'd been teaching this as a conventional lecture, but somehow these students, who were doing everything asked of them, somehow felt that they should be engaging more.

I assured both of them that from a grade standpoint everything was well, but I used it as an opportunity to engage in the greater discussion about how to participate, what I could do to make it easier, why participation was a good thing, etc. I'm curious to see what happens, but I was so (pleasantly) surprised to be able to engage in these discussions that I had to write about it.

By the way ...

I just want to say, "My teaching staff Rocks!"

Next: Missing Flipping (April 8, 2013)

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