The struggle between teachers and students is long and storied — no doubt dating from the time of the very first teachers and the very first students.
Teachers do all sorts of things for seemingly no other reason than to annoy students — and the opposite also stands true. Although their goal is the same (passing knowledge from one group to the other), the struggle is real and oftentimes, there seems to be more conflict than collaboration.
There’s no perfect way to be a teacher, but some approaches are better than others. Here are three ideas that do work, as demonstrated by science and highlighted by Wharton Professor of Management Ethan Mollick.
Sit students randomly
It’s understandable that students don’t like to be moved around. Tests feel uncomfortable and stressful, and moving from your usual place can add even more pressure to an already unpleasant situation.
The problem, however, is that moving students around works. It helps prevent cheating, as illustrated by a 2019 paper published by researchers from Chicago University and Taiwan University.
It’s no surprise that many students want to cheat. Their future is impacted by their grades, and the consequences for cheating are often not that severe.
The paper found compelling evidence of cheating in at least 10% of the students taking a midterm exam (not a trivial amount, especially for two high-ranking universities) and these were just the compelling cases, not the suspected ones.
The true scale of the problem is probably even larger, as another paper found — but back to our business.
The study developed a simple algorithm for moving students around and found that it is highly effective. Students often cheat from one another, and even assigning them randomly can go a long way towards preventing cheating.
Honor systems just don’t work, researchers write. Moving students around — does.
“It is not surprising that students cheat—they have strong incentives to do so, and the likelihood of getting caught is low. What is perhaps more surprising is that so little effort is devoted to catching cheating students,” the study ominously reads.
Give tests often
If there’s something students hate more than taking a test, it’s taking a lot of tests. But there’s a very good reason why professors should give short and numerous quizzes: they help students learn better.
At some point, we’ve probably all had the feeling that we only understood the subject after the test. In fact, we may have only understood it because of the test. Tests, for all the hate they receive, are very useful — as highlighted by a 2011 paper.
Tests are useful in a number of key ways. They boost student memory, identify gaps in knowledge, allowing professors to know which topics to focus on, and generally cause students to learn more.
Instead of seeing tests as ways to assess knowledge, we should see them more as a way to improve knowledge, the study authors note.
“Besides these direct effects of testing, there are also indirect effects that are quite positive. If students are quizzed frequently, they tend to study more and with more regularity,” the authors note.
So if you want your students to learn more, try giving more tests. They might hate you, but they’ll learn more in the process.
Attendance is a controversial topic even among professors. Some make it important, offering bonus points or some kind of exam advantage for it — some even make it mandatory — while others simply disregard it completely.
But according to a recent meta-analysis, attendance is the best available predictor of academic performance — and if you want students to perform well, you’d better pay some attention to attendance.
The study reads:
“Attending class not only allows students to obtain information that is not contained in textbooks or lecture materials presented online but also allows students varied contact with material (lectures, review of notes, demonstrations, etc.). In addition, consistent class attendance represents a system of distributed practice that has been shown to be effective in increasing the retention of information while also offering the possibility for the overlearning of material.”
Results also show that class attendance explains large amounts of unique variance in college grades because — independent of SAT scores and school GPA. There is also surprisingly little connection between attendance and student characteristics such as conscientiousness and motivation. So class attendance helps raise grades, and it’s not that the most motivated students always have the highest attendance.
The relationship between attendance and grades is so strong that it suggests that dramatic improvements in average grades (and failure rates) could be achieved simply by increasing class attendance rates among college students.
So there you have it — QED. Want your students to perform better? Give them a lot of tests, sit them randomly, and emphasize attendance.
Is your professor giving you a lot of tests, sitting you randomly, and emphasizing attendance? Good! Then he or she has your best interest at heart — even though it may not always seem like it.