Feature proposal: Exercise collection for pattern abstraction

Authors use CyberCourse to create CyCourses. CyCourses are heavy on assessment. They have many exercises embedded in expository content.

A case

Here’s an example:

Embedded exercise

There’s a lesson on variables. One section of the lesson is about accumulating data in variables. Embedded in that is an exercise.

The problem

When they do the exercise, students have just read about data accumulation. They’ve seen a demonstration. Students know what pattern to use, so completing the exercise is a near transfer task. Further, the exercise typically will focus on the pattern just explained, to the exclusion of other patterns.

There are good reasons to use exercises this way. Students have never seen the accumulation pattern before. Focusing just on the accumulation pattern forms a step in the learning curve that most students will be able to take. Complicating the task at this stage might be too much for average and poor students.

However, this approach has shortcomings. First, students have an artificial cue that they should use the accumulation pattern for the exercise: the position of the exercise in the expository content. That cue will not be available in other situations, like an exam.

Second, students use the accumulation pattern out of context. In an exam or in the real world, students will use the accumulation pattern along with other patterns. Those patterns will include more abstract patterns that show how to combine patterns like accumulation to create entire solutions.

A solution?

CyCourses are flipped. Imagine that class time is split into two. Half of the time is used for one-on-one problem solving, between student and instructor. The other half of the time is given over to testing. Instructors give students in-class exercises with these attributes:

  • Students have not seen the exercises before. The exercises are not embedded in content, but are a separate collection. Students cannot see this collection, or, usually, exercises in it.
  • The exercises are cumulative, that is, they can use patterns from anywhere in the course prior to the point in the semester where they are used. Authors link the exercises to points in the content where they (the exercises) might be useful.
  • The exercises call for patterns at multiple abstraction levels. For example, an exercise might be solved with the general Input-Process-Output pattern, where Process is the accumulation pattern.

A class testing session might begin with the instructor activating one or two of the exercises, making them available to students. Students work on them in class, either alone or in groups, at the discretion of the instructor. After a time the instructor stops the class, and works through the exercises, explaining the solutions. Instructors might disable the exercises, or leave them open for future reference.

Of course, instructors might use other in-class procedures. As always, Cyco procedures are suggestions, not dictates.

What do you think?

Ideas about this? Please comment.


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