A Student’s View: ‘What are Students Learning?’

Opening TeachECONference2022, the first track of the asynchronous sessions “What are Students Learning?” aims to look at university economics courses through the student’s perspective instead of the academics. Here, UCL Economics Student Ming Zhao considers the different and varied approaches to student interaction and engagement.

Using Exit Tickets – Online

The first speaker of the day was Dr Alpna Bhatia, Assistant Professor at University of Colorado Boulder. Her topic was “Using Exit Tickets – Online.” Dr Alpna Bhatia has been experimenting with different types of Exit Ticket at the end of her lectures, such as a “selfie of your reaction to one of the contents in class,” and “advice you would give to future students”, as well as social-emotional check-ins. The student feedback to these exit tickets has been very positive as students said they generally felt exit tickets helped them reflect and be more self-aware, some said they felt heard and seen in an online environment, and that it is as if Dr Alpna Bhatia actually knew them personally even if the course was taught online.

From her experience, adding exit tickets to the end of online/asynchronous lectures periodically provides four main benefits. Firstly, it provides feedback to the lecturer, which is especially important in online teaching due to lack of visual feedback from students. Secondly, it encourages students to synthesize the content of the lecture and figure out what specifically they are struggling with when they feel they are not a hundred percent confident with the content. Thirdly, it challenges the students as some questions may require them to do some extra thinking. Lastly, it provides community building, as the students could share with each other what they are struggling with, as well as see the feedback of their fellow classmates. This is especially important in online lectures as natural interactions between students are made harder and can lead to some students may more feeling alone when progressing through the course. She also emphasised that these benefits are especially amplified during online teaching as exit tickets closes the disconnect between students and lecturers, and students and students, as online teaching makes it harder for students to reach out both to peers and the lecturer.

Measuring Student Engagement Online

The second speaker of the day was Dr Luke Buchanan-Hodgeman from the University of Kent, and co-author of the paper “Analysis of student engagement on a blended/distance learning degree: The
Professional Economics (BSc) Degree Apprenticeship Program

The Professional Economics (BSc) Degree Apprenticeship Program is unlike a traditional degree. Students in this program work in a professional environment for four days a week and study in classes one day per week and the degree is equivalent to an undergraduate degree. Also different to traditional courses, the course was taught online even before Covid era, and there is significant variation in types of assessment. The study investigates how assessment scheduling affects student engagement in concurrent modules. In this study the level of engagement is gauged by measuring the page views of course material on the virtual learning platform, Moodle. Assessments are grouped into Quiz, Assignment, and Exam, and day of the assessment is set as time zero.

The following three graphs represent quizzes, assignments, and exams. As we can see, engagement rises abnormally before the day of the assessment. Exams see the earliest rise in engagement followed by assignments and then quizzes. However, looking at the size of the peak of engagement, the order is reversed as quizzes have the largest peak followed by assignments and then exams. Also looking at engagement loss in concurring modules we can see that quizzes have the largest loss in engagement, followed by exams, and assignments actually have a positive effect on engagement concurring modules.

Spotlight on Students

The last speaker is our very own Dr Ramin Nassehi from UCL (my professor!) and a member of CTaLE. Dr Nassehi’s topic is “Spotlight on Students.” Most economic interviews are with top academics however in “Spotlight on Students” Dr Nassehi interviewed students from a wide range of backgrounds in his own class to students that achieved impressive achievements in UCL’s annual Explore Econ Student Conference.

Contrary to what one may assume, the point of “Spotlight on Students” is in fact not to set an example to future students. Instead, it has four main benefits. The first benefit is what Dr Nassehi calls “Metacognition” whereby interviewing high performing students, it may inspire other students to think more critically about their own implicit methods or to simply be more self-aware subconscious steps they took in their research. The second value of this project is so that academics may be able to get first-hand feedback from actual students and really try to understand what their course looks like from the perspective of a student. Arguably academics may have a preconception of how their course should be studied, but by looking at how students actually work through the course may help academics better decide what content and resource to take out and what to add to the course. For example, the impact materials that were provided, which resources were most/least used, and what part of the course did they have to spend the most time on etc. The third benefit of the project is that these interviews may act as inspiration and motivation for other students, especially students at a more junior level such as a high school student listening to an interview of an undergraduate student talking about their research. The final value is that according to Dr Nassehi, these interviews can liberate the classroom by shifting focus away from the academics who are used to having the spotlight on them (as they are the first point of contact for their opinions and advice). This project, as the name suggests, shifts the power dynamics as now the student talks and the academic listens.

Organising Learning Through the Student Lens

I feel like Track 1’s topic ‘What are Students Learning’ looks at university study through the lens of a student. I joined UCL in 2021, when due to the Covid-19 pandemic much of the new content was taught through recorded videos and zoom lectures (partially (completely) because I am super lazy and struggles to get up for Dr Pemberton’s lectures) I have done a significant portion of my studies for a few modules online. In these few instances I unconsciously treat my professors and lectures purely as a resource, and I end up feeling distant from the professors, classmates, and course in general compared to other modules. So, Dr Alpna Bhatia’s Exit Ticket felt really relatable for me, and I imagine having this regular personal interaction with your professors would make it easier to establish a closer connection.

Also, Dr Ramin Nassehi’s spotlight on student interviews were helpful as when I didn’t do as well as I hoped on a few research assessments last year, and I was able to watch a few of the interviews which encouraged me to reflect on how I could do better and to think about how to better optimize steps in my research that were already pretty well done. Moreover, they guided me to parts in my learning journey that were truly problematic which turned out to be things I was not conscious about. Thus watching a few interviews and being able to hear how and what classmates research were really helpful for my own improvements.

Find and watch all the videos here

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