I finished my first attempt at a skills list.


It’s way too long.  There are 48 skills on it.  Unfortunately, the curriculum actually requires that all of them be crammed into the semester.  It’s a 15-week course, 60 hours.  Not quite one skill per hour.  It’s also light on troubleshooting.  I’m trying to build in the skills that troubleshooting requires.  They will inevitably troubleshoot.  I’ll help them.  I’ll give them pointers.  I’ll host discussions and strategy sessions in class.  But I might not grade them on it.  Assessing troubleshooting (more than the once-over included here) might have to go in the Semiconductor Circuits course.

Initial plan for final grade:

100: sure, if you have 5’s on everything!

80-99: no score below 4 (average the scores)

60-79: no score below 3 (average the scores, cap at 79)

Yes, this means that I’m willing to fail someone if they don’t get the point about even one of these.  I hope I’m making the right decision here.  Shortening the list of skills will probably help.


You must show some evidence of preparation before to assess.  I don’t care what it is but I want proof of some kind (data you experimented with, practise problems you completed, etc.) This is about helping students take control of the cause-and-effect between their work and their score (as opposed to my work and their score).  It also should give us some data about how effective study strategy X is for student Y.

Since I’ll have to tell the class that a quiz is coming up (probably a week in advance) so that they can prepare some evidence that they are ready, that means no pop quizzes.  I’m ok with that.

Shop Time:

A lot of the skills have to be demonstrated in the shop.  Ideal scenario: I pick 2-3 skills to assess.  At the beginning of our 3-hour shop period (or, if I’m really organized, a few days before), I announce which skills I will be assessing.  They have 3 hours to practise, and can let me know when they’re ready to demonstrate.   The lab book will be a good source of circuits to practise on, but this system means I will no longer require them to complete the lab exercise as it is written.  If they want to branch out and create their own experiment, I figure that’s a win.  If they do half the lab and their skills are up to scratch, why force them to do the rest?  If they need the rest for some other skill, they can always come back.  Or get started on it in the remaining time.  I suspect that they will try to make up their own experiments, realize it’s harder than it looks, and go back to following the lab book.  That might be ok, since they’re doing it with a clear target in mind (today I need to prove that I can use two scope probes at the same time).  At the same time, the students who are bored can have that extra challenge, and maybe score a 5 in the process.

In the past, many students have stumbled through the labs like zombies, skipping the explanations, the purpose, all that other direction-finding stuff.  They get to the end and have no idea what the point was.  Then then complain that the lab book is badly written.  *laugh*  And, well, it is.  But if a clear skill-target can wake them up and get them doing this work with purpose, it’ll be an improvement.  Especially since the circuits are so trivial, it’s often hard for the students to see the point. “Why bother hooking up two resistors in series?” Or, my absolute favourite — the vocational equivalent of “when in my life will I ever need this” is “when in industry will I ever need to hook up two resistors in series??”  Ah, but the point of the lab wasn’t the resistors.  It was the multimeter you used, and the process of testing your predictions.  And yes, you will need those in industry…

Things that will get confusing: if they are practising their measurement skills and need my help, I am basically tutoring them.  I would prefer not to tutor and assess the same skill in a single day, but I don’t want to discourage either one, so I guess I have to suck it up.  I don’t want to make them afraid to admit they don’t understand something.  Saying they have to assess another day if they got any help from me would just discourage them from asking for help when they need it.   Last year I had them do the lab, then evaluated them by asking them what the point was.  That worked out ok, gave what seemed like meaningful data, so I guess this is no worse.  And that part of the course is much less of a problem than the abstract skills and the metacognition.  One addition: I will try to make my help a little more “expensive” by requiring that they document their troubleshooting before I help them.  DOCUMENT.  YOUR.  TROUBLESHOOTING.   Amazing how troublesome those three words can be!  No, I do not mean “just tell me what you did, no need to write it down”.  No, I do not mean what your buddy at the next bench did when he looked at it.  No, I do not mean your hunch that the transistor is blown, so you chucked it and put a new one in, without measuring anything or testing the transistor.  Argh.  Maybe start with requiring that they have one documented troubleshooting attempt, then gradually increase the number throughout the semester.

Without further ado, skills list is in the next post.