“Unmuddying” Course Content Using Muddiest Point Reflections ?· “Unmuddying” Course Content…

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  • Unmuddying Course Content Using Muddiest Point Reflections

    Adam Carberry

    College of Technology & Innovation Arizona State University

    Mesa, AZ, USA adam.carberry@asu.edu

    Stephen Krause & Casey Ankeny School of Engineering Matter, Transport, & Energy

    Arizona State University Tempe, AZ, USA

    skrause@asu.edu; cankeny@asu.edu

    Cynthia Waters Mechanical Engineering

    North Carolina A&T State University Greensboro, NC, USA


    AbstractClass instruction is a living and ever evolving process aimed at providing students with a quality education. Instructors are responsible for analyzing their courses to ensure that delivery of information is effective. Changes made are usually based on student assessments; however, our reactions to assessments are flawed without student insight. One method to obtain student feedback is through muddiest point reflections. This activity asks students to reflect on what was just taught allowing students the opportunity to share what was muddy. This mixed-methods study provides vignettes from faculty members on their use of muddiest point reflections and an assessment of what value students associate with such an intervention. Faculty members who have used this approach say it drives change within their classes. The analysis of student value beliefs revealed muddiest point reflections as an intervention that positively impacts interest, attainment, and utility value without negative cost. The appeal of muddiest points was also evident with 77% of students hoping to see muddiest point reflections in another class and 93% agreeing to recommend their course experience to a friend. These findings suggest that students agree more than disagree that muddiest point reflections are a valuable addition to their educational experience.

    Keywords muddiest point reflection, curricular change, formative feedback, associated value

    I. INTRODUCTION One of the primary roles of faculty is the responsibility to

    teach students. Additional responsibilities can sometimes diminish the priority level placed on teaching, which in turn prevents many faculty members from putting in the necessary time to evolve their teaching practices. Preparing courses, especially those taught year after year, can eventually lead faculty to fall into the trap of simply using notes or slides from past years to save time. This approach may save time, but fails to meet the changing needs of our students who have high expectations from their instructors.

    One very simple method to improve teaching is to employ muddiest point reflections. Muddiest point reflections involve simply asking students to anonymously reflect on what was muddy, i.e. confusing, during class and to rank their level of confusion. Reflection can occur by providing students with a document to record difficulties throughout the class or by dedicating five minutes at the end of class. This intervention provides an opportunity for students to reflect in a way that is beneficial for both them and instructors; students reflect on what they understood from the class, while instructors obtain valuable insights into what was confusing for students. This direct feedback allows instructors to instantly reflect on how well they taught the course content and how they may change their delivery or pedagogical approach next time. Additionally, taking five minutes of time at the beginning of the next class meeting provides instructors with an opportunity to cover the material again in an effort to address student concerns and misconceptions. This short, noninvasive effort not only addresses students falling behind, but also shows students a commitment to their education especially when the instructor puts direct student quotes on the screen. In effect, the muddiest point technique establishes a critical student/instructor dialogue.

    The following study reports the use of muddiest point reflections in three material science and manufacturing courses. These reflections have revealed many confusing topics such as secondary bonding, Miller indices, and eutectic phase diagrams to name a few. Emerging muddiest point topics have led to various changes in the course content and delivery for these instructors as well as increased interest from other faculty members. Specific efforts undertaken by these three instructors include creating YouTube Muddiest Point video tutorials, building a FAQ resources website, implementing preview problems based on the next classs content, and embedding active student-centered pedagogical approaches. These efforts have shown dividends in a short

    978-1-4673-5261-1/13/$31.00 2013 IEEE

  • period of time as demonstrated by the over 33,000 hits in less than seven months for the twelve video tutorials posted and the 93% of students who indicated the videos supporting their learning.

    The goal of this paper is to share instructor experiences with muddiest points focusing on how these reflections have impacted their courses. Additionally, this paper will investigate the following research question:

    What value do students place on muddiest point reflections?


    A. What are Muddiest Point Reflections? Muddiest points are unclear concepts generated by

    students. In 1988, Frederick Mosteller first implemented muddiest points through the solicitation of responses to the following three questions: 1) What was the most important point in lecture?, 2) What was the muddiest?, and 3) What would you like to hear more about? After analyzing the student comments, Mosteller addressed issues using both class time and handouts. Anecdotally, Mosteller stated that although this activity required class time, the students enjoyed the exercise and he was able to modify 15% of his class behavior [1, 2]. Also in 1988, Angelo and Cross highlighted muddiest points as a subsection of one of thirty classroom assessment technique classifications [3]. It has been suggested that the collection of most interesting points is a beneficial addition to balance perceived negativity by focusing only on muddiest points [4]. In summary, the seminal publications of Mosteller, Angelo, and Cross launched the widespread, but under-analyzed, use of muddiest points today.

    B. Motivation for using Muddiest Points The use of muddiest points is evident by the over 8,200

    hits revealed when searching Google Scholar. The success of muddiest points is due in part to its ease-of-use and large impact. Muddiest point requires very little time and minimal change to the syllabus. It allows students to reflect, retain, synthesize and build knowledge. Muddiest points not only benefits students but faculty as well. It allows faculty to more effectively question students, assess their difficulties, identify next steps, and help modify lectures for future semesters [5].

    C. How to Collect Muddiest Points Muddiest points may be implemented through a few simple

    steps, outlined by several groups [5-7]. First, instructors should hand out muddiest point sheets/cards at the beginning of class and remind students to begin filling them out, anonymously, 15 minutes before the end of class. Instructors should then collect and record responses (in an Excel spreadsheet, for example). The responses must then be analyzed so the instructor can identify the most relevant issues requiring a strategized response. We are proponents for use of direct quotes when responding to student misconceptions as student voice strengthens student-instructor interactions[8].

    D. Cyber Implementation of Muddiest Points The original method of collecting muddiest points used

    blank index cards [5]. Today, there are many media that can be utilized to collect muddiest points. For this study, researchers used custom forms requesting both muddiest and interesting points which facilitated the use of student quotes when responding. Alternatively, others used in-class clickers and online multiple-choice forms with generalized topics as choices to quickly and quantitatively assess the muddiest points [9, 10]. Similarly, there are many options for responding to muddiest points including the creation of screencasts and podcasts [10-12].

    E. Impact of Muddiest Points Although the use of muddiest points is widespread,

    limited work has been done to determine the student value of this exercise. King determined that the muddiest points technique was favored by the majority of the students as demonstrated by their response rate. More specifically, 75% of students that answered other subject-based clicker questions also answered the clicker question on the muddiest point. Kings study also uncovered that, although the majority of topics were conceptual, the majority of students had trouble with quantification [9]. Pinder-Grover, et al. showed that final grade correlated with frequency of use of muddiest point screencasts [10]. Here, we hope to further characterize the impact of muddiest points on engineering students by examining the efficacy of determining its value and cost to students.

    Our efforts are supported by expectancy-value theory and the significant body of work indicating that the value of learning a specific domain predict the amount of effort they will put into learning and the quality of that learning [13-17]. Expectancy-value theory states that associated value is determined by the level of interest, capability of attainment, utility toward goals, and cost associated with a given activity. Research has clearly demonstrated that college student effort and achievement are influenced by the connections they make between the content of their courses and their personal futures [18, 19]. Belief about the utility of learning activities for achieving future goals is called Perceptions of Instrume