I got the course approval forms for the Applied Circuits for Bioengineers course and lab signed by my chair today, and the department manager has already sent them up the pipeline to the next stage of the process. Basically, the forms disappear into a black hole at this point, and decisions or questions come back in a few weeks, either from the associate dean or from the Committee on Educational Policy. Unless politics interferes, the courses should be approved in time to advertise them before Winter quarter. Right now, I put the probability of the courses being offered this winter at over 90% (way up from a couple of weeks ago, when my estimate of the probability had dropped to 20%).
Of course, I have to finish the course design in time, and I just realized that my weekends the quarter are going to be consumed by grading for my bioinformatics grad class, which has 25 students and no TA. I think that this is going to mean late nights working on the course design. I’m wondering whether I’m going to be able to keep up on the physics homework that I’m assigning my son and me for the home-school physics class.
One thing I’ve been thinking about is (perhaps) trying standards-based grading (SBG) in the circuits class. I think that is doable in the lab course, where we will be putting together a list of lab skills that students need to demonstrate anyway, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to do it for the lecture course. I’m going to have a hard enough time coming up with enough “assessments” (test/quiz questions) for conventional grading, and standards-based grading seems to rely on having a much larger stock of assessments. We may end up with a hybrid scheme of checklists of skills for the lab and conventional grading for the book learning.
Another idea I had was about doing group work. The only lab available with enough equipment (and its availability is far from guaranteed) is set up as 12 stations with 24 seats (2 students per station). Since we are expecting far more than 12 students, we will have to pair students for the lab. But I have an aversion to forced group work on tasks that are more easily done by one person. I want to be sure that the pairs are not just one student working and one watching.
Given that most of the students will be in an electronics lab for the first time, pairing students at stations is not a bad idea. A lot of the labs involve manipulating something (voltage, frequency, …) and recording measurements. Having two people working together (one manipulating, the other recording) is likely to result in better records, though one person could do it alone.
I’m considering requiring that each lab be done with a different partner. This means that most students would get the opportunity to be both the stronger partner and the weaker one and would practice being helpful in both situations. No one would be stuck with a freeloader for the whole term nor with a partner who whizzes through everything without involving them. It also means that students will learn who makes a good work partner and who doesn’t, so that if they need to form a team for a senior project, they know some people to try to include on the team (and some to avoid). I think that this scheme would have to be done by assigning partners, as allowing free selection could result in some people never getting chosen as partners. Setting up the partner scheme, adapting it to students dropping the course, and making sure that all students know who their partner is for the next lab so that they can do the prelab work together all add a little extra logistics to this scheme.
One question we need to think about is whether lab reports should be written by the pair, with both names on one report, or whether there should be separate lab reports. Currently, I’m leaning towards one report per pair, since they will be collecting the data together, doing the design work together, and demonstrating the working design together. The weaker writers in the class would probably not get enough practice and feedback, since their partners will end up doing most of the writing, but requiring separate reports would probably not fix this problem, since they need to share a lot of content.