At the beginning of the semester I decided I was going to use some different approaches in my teaching. I just finished grading the exams from two different course in which I have employed similar methodology. The results were fascinating to me and counter to my expectations.
For the first third of the semester I teach two courses with overlapping material:
Meets 3x / week
50 minute classes
2 quizzes during my reign of terror
Mandatory midterm exam
Course covering breadth rather than depth.
Meets 2x / week
75 minute classes
No quizzes during this time
Optional* midterm exam (*long story here)
Course deals with similar material as Course 1, but in greater depth.
When I started the semester I was certain I would see an improvement in retention in the smaller class, based on the use of Think/Pair/Share activities and I thought the clicker questions would help the larger class. I wasn't sure how Class one would do with the T/P/S stuff.
Large improvement in class one, based on exam performance. There was about a 10 point increase in the midterm grade average over the last two years of classes. Part of this might be me retooling these lectures and cutting the material down substantially, but that was largely driven by needing to rethink my lectures to incorporate new activities. In years past we have seen about 10-15% of the class drop after the first exam. This year I will be surprised if the number is as high as 5%.
Class two is a different matter. The grades on this midterm was demonstrably worse than last year, with the class average dropping nearly 10 points compared to three other semesters. Despite me teaching concepts, discussing them in groups and back with the class, AND seeing them in lab, some concepts remain mysterious to the students. Honestly, this hurts my brain to imagine how this is happening, but clearly roughly half the students are missing these concepts that are dangled right in front of them half a dozen times. Surprisingly, the T/P/S and clickers have had no effect on retention. If anything, there has been a decline. It is notable that I have reduced the material covered in this class as well, based on incorporating new techniques.
So the puzzle of class two has me a little stumped. This is problematic because I teach this class the whole semester. Part of the reason I'm not too freaked out yet is because some of the students clearly came in knowing they could drop one exam and winged it. You don't get two students with single digit grades if they are taking it seriously. The exam policy was instituted so that I didn't have to chase people down for make-up exams, but I may be seeing a secondary effect that will even out as students get a little more serious for the next one. However, I had this policy last year. Not having quizzes may also be hurting the students' preparation, but this also isn't new.
I guess the second exam will be informative, but it would be nice to address the issue before we get there.