When asking students if they preferred Seneca over Clickschool (and half-expecting them to say so) I was chuffed to hear that they prefer using my web site for learning Computer Science. I followed up with the question “Why?” and the response: “Because you actually have to learn the content” and “It makes you think”.
Seneca opts to teach by getting students to ‘fill in the gaps’ whereas my site has exam questions that students answer from scratch. I think it is this that makes the difference. And given that students are ultimately assessed with exam questions that students have to answer from scratch then I’d like to think that a lot of answering questions from scratch is going to be most useful. I’ sure cognitive psychologists would agree.
Seneca claims that students learn more with it’s gap-fill approach as “proven” by scientific research. This may be so to some extent. Students tell me it is quick to learn content but also quick to forget (despite it’s repetition approach). What seems to help students learn more is when they are given exam questions to answer from scratch.
This research about retrieval practice suggests that students do better when retrieval practice includes high order questions:
“Critically, higher order and mixed quizzes improved higher order test performance, but fact quizzes did not.”
By ‘higher order’ it is on about skills such as explaining, applying, evaluating etc. i.e. exam style questions that make you think.
I know that asking a few students and “cherry picking” research is not particularly scientific but in my mind…
- Retrieval practice over time undoubtedly improves exam performance
- It is better for retrieval practice to comprise of exam-style questions rather than fact quizzes/gap-fills.
My site doesn’t yet have a fully-functional way of automatically encouraging students to revise by attempting questions on previous topics but it is probably something I should look into.
I was also reading about what it takes to make a subject interesting is not just the facts you have to learn, but the background stories too. And to this extent this is also something I feel I should be adding more of to the content of my online courses.