December 15 Day 647: Interview Marathon Part II

My first academic term teaching face-to-face since March 2020 is close to completed. Continuing my COVID practice of assessing students through oral examinations, I recently finished two long days of interviews.

This reflection will detail the process and lessons learned (much as I have done in the past as documented in all these posts.) The process has been refined since I first tried this method June 11 Day 95: Finals. Part II. Fewer questions, fewer passes. Some of the questions even remained the same.

The Method

After their experience with the midterm, these students requested more time to prepare and practice. So one and a half weeks in advance, students were given six questions on which the examination would be drawn. They could use all resources available to prepare including but not limited to: each other, books, notes, and the internet. However, during the examinations students were limited to one side of a 3×5 card and prepared material as allowed by questions #1 and #6.

Students self-selected interview times using the calendly website. It’s free as long as you only have one active appointment type and it coordinates with my calendar, minimizing the work of scheduling. I allowed for up to 16 thirty-minute interviews a day between 8:30 am and 6 pm with no more than 6 consecutive bookings before giving myself a break. Nothing ever goes to plan, so breaks scattered throughout the day are important for sanity and flexibility.

During their thirty minute interviews student had to present three questions, the first question being their choice (20 pts), the second was mine (20 pts), and the third was a randomly selected matrix (and its reduced row echelon form) to determine related subspaces (10 pts). The scoring rubric has continued to evolve since I first stated using it but is still very broad.

The current rubric

Students could reject my chosen question for a five point reduction, once. And for those of you keeping score, the missing 5% would be awarded upon completion of a reflection/ survey.

The Questions

You can download the questions to see them more clearly. It also includes the instruction sheet, 14 permutations of a,b,c,d to determine pairings for problem 3, and seven matrices with their reduced row echelon form for the final question of the interview.

Lessons Learned

  • I love having a reflection that follows an exam. I act on suggestions where I can (especially after the midterm so they know I take their comments seriously. )
    • Several commenters mentioned that the questions on the final were harder than the ones on the midterm. I’m not sure I agree. I think the content was harder and that was reflected by the questions. But compared to the nine questions I asked back in the Spring of 2020, I think these were very reasonable.
    • Six commenters (of 23 so far) when responding to how to improve their experience in the class, requested more group work and in-class activities. I agree 100%. COVID protocols made me timid. I used less group work than I would have in the past. I’m looking for creative ways to responsibly introduce more group work in a COVID-safe way.
  • Thirty minutes should be more than sufficient. It was absolutely enough time for the well-prepared students and even gave us a chance to visit and talk about their future but…
    • I was surprised at the number of students that walked in unprepared. More than one arrived with nothing in hand. No T/F questions. No selected HW question. Not even a 3×5 card. So they hadn’t even read the instructions.
    • When I asked what question they wanted to start with, they didn’t have one chosen. And they gave the impression they were seriously reading the questions for the first time during the interview.
    • Thirty minutes is not enough to figure out answers for the first time. For those students, I need to have an alarm set for the 15 minute point of the interview to keep them on task. And because I don’t know in advance who those students will be, I need to set that alarm every time.
    • From the reflection I know that the students I thought were least prepared did not match with the students that assessed themselves as least prepared.
Data from after final reflection
  • Because the location where I held interviews opened to the public at 8:30 am (including to me), I shouldn’t have started interviews until 9: 00 am. I needed time to get settled before embarking on the marathon day. I started each day with a 10-minute deficit. It got righted pretty quickly because students seem prefer afternoon interviews to morning ones. So there were breaks early in the schedule.
  • It remains obvious who had answers and who worked to understand their answers. If they could not fully support their work, I considered that a nontrivial error.
  • Finally this brings me to the 3×5 cards. I was disappointed by the number of students that brought in a fully written solution to one of the problems and proceeded to choose that problem first. They then copied their notes from the card to the whiteboard–and did not understand what they were writing. I realize that the rules allow this behavior but it does not provide any evidence of their understanding. You can guarantee that I asked about every detail. I don’t know what I’ll allow next time; I keep changing my mind.

There will be a next time for sure. Next quarter in fact. Until then, I have a mess of grading to finish before grades are due–projects, portfolios, and late assignments.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

One thought on “December 15 Day 647: Interview Marathon Part II

  1. Jenny, I was looking for exactly this kind of reflection because I was surprised to have the same kind of experience with low preparedness levels. I look forward to talking at JMM. -Carolyn Yackel

    Liked by 2 people

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