Pop Quiz Philosophy

This year marks the 4th time that I am a TA for course X.

In the years that I’ve run the tutorials, frankly, not much has changed. I tweak things here and there, but most of the time, I solve the same problems that I solved 4 years ago. One aspect in particular are my pop quizzes.

The professor for whom I teach mandated me to give pop quizzes, whose marks add up to 10% of students’ final marks. She gave me free reign to choose the content, the difficulty, and even the number of quizzes that are given. When I first started as a TA for course X, I decided that I didn’t want to punish students for not understanding everything all the time, and that I wanted to reward students for attending the tutorials. As a result, the quizzes were easy: they were open-book, and they were on the content that was taught during that tutorial. What better way to reward students for coming to tutorial than to give them nearly-free marks?

But recently, I’m no longer certain about the motivation behind my pop quizzes. If you don’t need to attend tutorial, then is it really my place to force you to come so as not to lose 10%? Many students can benefit from seeing problems solved on the board, but it certainly isn’t going to reach all students. Why force them to stay? Okay, so now I need a new purpose for the pop quizzes…but by the very “pop” nature of them, really, it’s just a punitive device for not attending tutorials.

The only learning benefit I see is to get the students practicing the methods. I think it would make more sense to have un-weighted pop quizzes. Then they would get the benefit of practice, without forcing them to attend.

Alas, I’m not the instructor for this course, so I chug along…pop quizzing my students.


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  • September 2011
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