I was pretty nervous about springing this new plan on the students.  My 2nd-year students, in particular, have had a lot of upheaval and are understandably a bit cagey about change.  I ripped off most of this welcome letter from the author of Sarcasymptote (with his kind permission), and wrote a version for each class group.  Here’s what the 2nd-years got:

With each group, we talked for a while about what this meant.  I had the 1st-years fill out the Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (more as a way to open conversation than anything else, since I’m not sure what I’ll do with the data).  At the end of class, I asked them to jot down their first impressions about these questions:

  • How will this help you learn?
  • How will this make learning harder for you?
  • What suggestions do you have for dealing with the hard parts?

Here’s a sample of responses.

It will allow me to learn at my own pace and give me time to properly absorb the information

I am encouraged with the detail, if only one skill needs tweaking then that can be addressed, as opposed to an entire lecture being given again and again.

I might be a slower learner than [classmate], but as long as we know what we’re suppose to by the end of the semester theres no reason why either should lose credit.

I’m liking this new marking scheme so far, less pressure on due dates and more making sure the topics are learned.  The breakdown of basic and above skills is nice to see exactly what needs more attention and I can go back and top up skills I may have missed at any time.

You’re getting rid of the numbers, aren’t you.

I get it, when you grade people’s homework, isn’t that punishing them for practicing?

The new grading will may be take a lot of stress off my shoulders

Sounds like a good way to make sure we fully understand the material and hopefully will help me with learning more on my own

The new grading scheme will help me learn more efficiently and effectively because it is real world focused.

An individual skill doesn’t require a lot of motivation to attempt so it will be easier to fill small time slots.

It help me learn by allowing be to learn at my own pace and learning things more in the lab rather than on assignment.

This new system should make me learn better, by going at my own pace and not rushing through everything and not understanding.

Number of responses that mention that they will have to improve  their time management: 68%

I guess this is part of that idea I keep hearing about: “the one who does the work does the learning.”  If I’m doing the time management, then they are not, and they know it.  Several students requested that we do skill-building around time management.  Unreal.  If I had proposed that idea 4 months ago, they would have rolled their eyes or gone into mental screen-saver.  Maybe they still will.  But now I have a lever.