Twice a year, I travel to China to teach intensive 2-week forestry courses (in English) to Chinese undergraduates. Students face several challenges in this learning environment, but English-language ability is the biggest. (I’m not criticizing the students’ abilities. It is simply a key component of the learning environment. I have utmost respect for students taking a course taught in a foreign language.) Students in my courses have a wide range of English abilities. For students with decent English skills, learning in a foreign language introduces extraneous cognitive load (translation efforts use some cognitive bandwidth, leaving less available for learning). Unfortunately, students with marginal English skills simply miss or misunderstand much of what I say when I teach.
I gave my first two-stage exam a few weeks ago. It wasn’t an approach I had considered until very recently. I had previously heard of exams with a group portion, but at that time the benefits weren’t clear to me, and frankly, it sounded odd so I didn’t give it much thought. A few months ago, I was reintroduced to the idea by Judy Chan at a UBC Course Design Intensive workshop. After hearing the process described in detail, the value was immediately clear. This concept aligns with my interest in facilitating effective learning strategies for students, in this case, retrieval practice.
The exam I just gave was a radical departure from anything I’ve done before. During the group portion, I could see through the students’ animated discussions that they were more engaged with the material than ever before. Two-stage exams will be my main approach from this point forward.Continue reading