Another thought-provoking post from RJ Lipton/Ken Regan, this time on the efficacy of on-line learning (it addresses on-line learning, in general, and is not specific to math courses):
They bring up a practice I was totally unaware of, and can't help but wonder how widespread it truly is: students signing up multiple times for a free online course offering, as "Bob1, Bob2, Bob3, Bob4," for example, so as to be able to take an exam multiple times hopefully improving their score with each taking. There are honor codes to discourage such activity, but enforcement is difficult (and not even necessarily in the interest of online schools that may wish to publicize the numbers of people that sign up for their courses).
What is fascinating is to see the authors go from what the reader anticipates will be criticism of the system to contrarily point out that "Bob" is actually taking extra steps (and doing extra work), to try and insure a good grade… and in so doing likely 'mastering' the material better (through repetition). Is this not a good thing!? Indeed, the authors ask whether multiple-opportunity test-taking ought not be brought out of the shadows and made an explicit/official part of course-teaching wherever possible:
"What Ken and I find interesting is that many students are apparently motivated to do so well. Is this a better way to learn, or is it cheating? Should we allow students in “normal” classes to take the exam multiple times or not? We never thought about this previously because we could not afford to have students take more exams, since we had one grade to give by a human grader. But if all exams are auto-graded, then there is no cost.
"Is this a better way to learn? Should we encourage it? I suggested that we make Bob’s strategy explicit: students do not have to have multiple “phony” sign ups; they can have official multiple tries at the exams."...hmmm, 'cheating' (of a sort) as the road to 'mastery'... who'd a thunk it!