Playing tricks on my class

Feb 11 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

I've been thinking about trying something with my class and I would be curious to hear whether any of you have done something like it. Our class has a website where I post all materials for the students to download at their convenience. The lectures go up there after each class and any readings do as well. The one thing that the website doesn't allow me to do is find out how many times each document has been downloaded.

When it comes to class readings I'm fairly sure that half the class doesn't even download what I've asked them to read, let alone actually read it. I was trying to figure out ways to encourage them at least look the material over, as it would make my job in class a lot easier. Not much came to mind, but I did realize that I could reward the ones that do the reading by placing immediate incentives in the readings. The first thing I thought of was including a page at the end of a document I have asked them to read, which asks them to contact me by email to receive an extra point on the upcoming exam. In the grand scheme of things, one percentage point on the exam means little, but no one who reads that will hesitate to send me an email.

I know that is hardly a fool proof way to get an idea whether any of them are keeping up on the reading, but it might provide some incentive for a few, and if I point it out after the fact, perhaps more will at least look at what I post. Besides holding them to the readings on tests or making quizes to do the same, are there other good ways to "encourage" keeping up on class material? Should I even care, as long as they show up, stay awake and don't fail the tests?

15 responses so far

  • Anonymous says:

    That works until the one person who reads the assignment points it out to their friends, who simply email you without doing the reading...

  • Alyssa says:

    One way that might work is to use a jigsaw puzzle technique. You split the class into groups (say, one for each section of the paper), and they only have to read that section of the paper. Then, within their groups they have to decide what were the important points of that section and why.Then, the groups change around - 1 or 2 people from the original groups go into each of the new group. Then, each person (or people from the original group) explains the part of the paper that they know to the others in the group.This method obviously has the downside in that it take up time in class. However, it really helps the students learn the material (we retain much more information if we have to teach it to someone), AND it means the students are responsible for learning the material instead of just knowing you're going to cover it anyway.This might be tough with a big class, but it could be done (for example, you could have 2 or 3 of the same initial groups). Good luck with it! I know this is a huge complaint of many professors, so it's a tough situation.

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    I always gave little nuggets of information about the what might or might not be important for the test to those that showed up to office hours or reviews, both of which saw sparse visitation. I left little easter eggs in my readings too, such as wear a red shirt to class and set your textbook on the ground to your right. Thus I gave credit to those it was do but not some asshole that wore a red shirt by chance.

  • Anonymous says:

    Another option is to have the class list on hand and randomly pick names to respond to a reading related question. You'll know who shows up and who's actually looked at the reading.

  • Anonymous says:

    Couple things: -why are you giving them the notes AFTER the lectures? Try making the notes available the DAY BEFORE. And leave things BLANK in the notes so they bring them to class and fill them out as you talk. It's easy to scan a class up to 50 for people filling stuff in as you lecture. You'll have to tell them not to work in "teams" so you don't have talking and carrying on during the lecture. If you see that happening, take their papers away. (one person is all it takes to nip that in the ass!)-end of class "what did we talk about today?" paragraph to hand in. If you go a bit quicker than you planned on, ask them to take out a piece of paper and write down 3 things they learned in class today and turn it in. Easy 3 points for those who were awake and present.-if you are using Bb, there is a screen for each user that shows the last login. But if someone hasn't logged in since day 1, that could be because their roommate logs in and prints 2 copies of the notes. -I also had access to online testing materials. I gave the stus quizzes with an expiration (you have until Friday 5pm to complete the quiz online or you will see an auto-zero by your name if you log in late). There were also timed quizzes where they would read a problem to solve and have to click/enter the correct answer within 20 minutes of starting. Ask your Faculty Resources group if there is such a thing for you.As a n00b, you'll grow a thick skin for stus who don't give a shit. Don't cater to them. Lecture to the stus paying attention. Squeaky wheels suck up your time if you let them... don't. jc

  • Michael Hultström says:

    I wouldn't care too much about them reading or not reading your material. If they think they can manage the tests anyway: Good for them. If they can't, they will realise this and hopefully make sure to read them.As a student I probably wouldn't have downloaded or mailed you even if I knew it would give me extra credit. I would have made sure to get your material if there was something of extra interest in it, beyond what you said and what was in the book.

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    As a student I definitely WOULD have mailed you to get extra credit. Man free points are free points.

  • Dr. O says:

    I like the idea, but you'd have to change it up quite a bit to keep the students on their toes. I like Genomic Repairman's idea of including info, which won't be covered in lecture but will be on a test. Another idea - my old mentor used to call on people in the class (of about 50) to answer questions regarding the reading. Not right at the beginning, but during the lecture to try and initiate a bit of discussion. She was quite good at this technique (as well as lecturing in general); it could get quite awkward waiting on somebody to chime in with an answer. That definitely helped "compel" more people to do the reading.

  • Natalie says:

    If you were able to target only a section of your students every week (like those with last names A-M) but switched it around so that everyone had a chance to email for extra points by exam time, then *everyone* would have to do *every* reading to see if they received the coveted golden tickets at the end. I'm with GR, I would have definitely emailed you. Maybe not read very carefully, but scanned the document title at least.

  • Toaster Sunshine says:

    Tell them that the answers to the multiple choice questions are hidden in code somewhere in the readings. Of course, this may wind up with more people trying to decrypt your code (that doesn't actually exist) than actually doing the reading, but at least they're looking at it, right?Alternatively, you could hide PRO-TIPS.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I care that they read the stuff because some of it will be on the exam and I don't have time to cover it all. Without fail, someone will complain about this fact, even though I've made it clear. It also makes lecturing easier and reduces the blank stares when I ask a question. So, if I can "encourage" so more reading, that will help me. JC, I put the notes up after class because I was specifically told by a fellow faculty member with a LOT more teaching under her belt than mine, that numbering the slides so that they can take notes and refer to the slides later makes them take far more and better notes than if they have the slides in their hands at the time of class. It seems to work fine, so I'm going to stick with it for now. My intention was to try my devious plan one time and see how they react, but not to do this on a regular basis. I realize that switching it up is key, but I want them to know that I might do things like this. I'm also working on their names, which will likely help. Calling on them by name has certainly helped with the texting, though it persists. The class is small enough that I may bring in the discussion aspects that Alyssa suggested later, but right now they are not reading papers as much as other helpful handouts.

  • Anonymous says:

    I struggled with this as well and then landed on my own version of Eric Mazur's interactive teaching style and just in time learning. Yeah, it is gimmicky but I saw the difference immediately in my classes.Start your class with multiple choice questions based on the reading. If your school has 'clickers' you can use Turning Point PPT ( love these things. Without clickers, you can just have students raise their hands to vote, or pass out cards with letters they can raise in unison to vote. Advantage of this approach- you can immediately see how well the students understand the material so you can pitch your lecture appropriately. Also, you can then call on people who didn't vote. Guaranteed everyone will start to read the material ahead of time so they don't get called out in lecture. You can learn more about this approach at: and

  • PhDamned says:

    What a great tactic! I'm totally going to do this if I'm ever teaching a class of my own.Also, the texting in class would drive me NUTS. Maybe you should start texting while you lecture?

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Worth a shot. Maybe the first time I won't even tell them ahead of time 🙂

  • Kate says:

    It might be too late to implement this in your current class, but I would highly recommend requiring reading summaries for all of your readings. I have students write one paragraph per reading and it's due midnight the night before class. I don't read all of them, I just promise to read a handful so that I can make sure they are doing what they are supposed to, and if they aren't -- by submitting crap summaries or not doing all of them -- I go into the gradebook and dock points. Otherwise it grades automatically.This has made such a huge difference to me this year. My students are coming into class prepared and I can do the group work I'd dreamed of to get them to understand the material more deeply than when I used to just use the passive lecture model.

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