Eavesdropping on student thinking

Professor Carl Wieman presented at Imperial College yesterday on Taking a Scientific Approach to Science and Engineering Education. One of the techniques he discussed was using clicker questions in class, and he emphasised the importance of the lecturer listening in to the student discussions to hear how the students are thinking. This allows the lecturer to pick up on misconceptions and address them with the class.

In the subsequent Q&A session, a question was raised on how student thinking can be made visible in an online course. Here’s an example I’ve come across of an online teaching method that promoted extensive student discussion and learning, while allowing staff to see what and how the students were thinking.

I followed an EdX Course, The Analytics Edge, in 2014:


(Side note – I see the course will run again from 6th June 2017. I would recommend it very highly for anyone who wants a practical introduction to data analytics and/or to see an excellent example of an xMOOC in action.)

I thought this course was excellent, with very engaging real world examples. Initially, the format was quite traditional with video lectures and online MCQ assessment, but then, half-way through the course, there was a Kaggle competition where participants worked individually, but with lots of peer discussion – sharing approaches, helping each other to understand different aspects. This was loads of fun and really helped to consolidate the previous learning.

Here are links to three of these competitions from different iterations of the course:


For me, as a learner, the competition ticked all the boxes – the learning was flexible, active and social; the element of competition was motivating; and the task consolidated previous more theoretical study and provided a bridge between theory and practice.

Teaching staff must also have benefited very much from being able to see how students were thinking –  what they had understood well and what they had not fully grasped during the prior, more formal teaching – and this could be fed into future iterations of the course.

There is some more discussion about this competition and how useful it was in terms of learning with peers here: https://octel.alt.ac.uk/2014/forums/topic/autonomous-and-social/#post-13293


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