One of the themes I learned in my online class (discussed more in my About Page) was having open-ended questions in class. While traditional teaching methods assigned values to be plugged into a formula, open ended questions would give a goal and let the students loose to achieve it with the skills they have acquired– as well as a resource to discover more.
The other day, in my Intro to Math Software class, my professor assigned a project with this theme in mind. We had learned the basics of the program LaTeX, and were given a project to duplicate the code needed to come up with a PDF similar to the one he created. Now, there were multiple codes that would yield to the same tables, graphics, and text formats. There were multiple ways to go about this, and multiple orders to code in to get the same result. He could have asked us to re-type his document, then checked for errors via the PDF. Rather, he asked us to alter a graphic so that it was the same size and rotation as his, and let us play around with the coding until we were satisfied enough to submit it. He gave us a wiki book to look into any alterations we wanted to make to a table, and let us use the method that we were most comfortable with to achieve the same look as he.
So today, I wanted to see how much of a difference open-ended questions made. I took one of his templates for a beamer presentation (similar to a powerpoint) and re-typed what he had. I didn’t understand much. I didn’t remember much of what I typed. Then I went back to the wiki page he linked us to and started to read some of the basics. Once I knew what each code represented, it got easier. If I had gone through his sample presentation and attempted to create one, but with my own twist, I guarantee I would have taken even more from it.
I got a chance to see first-hand what open-ended assignments can do for students’ understanding and memory. I definitely had an easier time creating documents when I had a grasp of what each line of code represented and when I had to experiment a bit to find what I was looking for. And I saw my class grasp most of it, as well. Even with something as complicated as creating a document from pure code, I found that students can assimilate the necessary material better than they would if they were just spoon-fed information and told to spit it back out.