Short summary of the situation

Our faculty offers special courses after the end term exams and before the resit for students who failed the first attempt and/or did not participate in the final exam. These courses do last for eight work days six/seven hours each day and we aim to provide learning environments for the students where they can repeat the contents of the lecture and exercise together. Each group has one assigned tutor who is there to help and guide the students, especially for individual problems.

I am currently working in the team that is planning those courses and we want to rework them slightly since we noticed that they aren't working as expected.

Im comparison to the tutorials during the semester (1.5h for an exercise sheet per week) these review courses take double the time. The tutors who participated in the review courses then started to split the days into two blocks of about three hours each where they just did the same sheets from the tutorials during that time. Near the end, that is the final 1.5 days they started to exercise with past exams.

Other tutors did organize their courses such that they were almost reproducing the lecture instead of exercising a lot.

In general we are giving the tutors the freedom to structure their courses on their own and they should do what they think is suitable for their groups. However the tutors should really support the students during the preparation for the exam, maybe give a short introduction or overview about particular topics and maybe discussing more complex topics with everyone. The tutors should create a learning environment where the students can work on their own or in small groups and help where it seems necessary.

Unfortunately all ideas to restructure and change this a bit had a huge mistake. All my arguments on why to introduce X or change Y in a specific way were based on the naive assumption that the students who enroll for the courses actually want to learn something. The question is whether this is really true or whether they just want to pass the exam with the least amount of effort. If the latter is true, the tutors who make the students think they are prepared enough for the exam are highly esteemed while the ones who promote competences are not. This is a wrong mindset of course and we want to change how students think about this and how the courses are being held.

Only if we achieve clarity we can have lasting change in a sense that we want to communicate on what the courses should be about or not. That is why the courses I held were different than the others. I usually prepare a bunch of new exercise sheets about all topics for all eight days and I let the students work 75% of the time alone or in small groups of two or three people. Every now and then when there is a completely new topic or something that has to be introduced properly I am presenting it alone to everyone to make sure that they are all on the same page. However most of the time I am letting them work, do own research or ask questions while helping most of them personally.

Unfortunately the students who joined on the first day, hoping they would learn everything from scratch without prior knowledge were no more present in the following days or were disappointed as mentioned above.

In the end I am actually wondering whether you have handled such situations as well and whether you have some input on how to properly communicate and at some point change the expectations of participating students in the long run.

Questions and Issues

  1. About the tutors - We want to communicate this problem to the tutors and even though they are pretty free on how they organise their courses we would like to find a "common denominator" and be on the same page about the pedagogical idea behind these courses. Is there any way to find a compromise between "do whatever is the most suitable for your group" and "please don't just repeat the entire lecture and don't do all on your own and motivate them to work and actually learn something"?
  2. About the students - We'd like to reduce the number of students having the mindset of "well, even if I haven't done anything so far, I can just attend the course and know just enough to pass the exam". The participants think that this is what will happen and what they need, but it isn't. Since the tutors are pretty free we are not signalling the intentions of the courses via the tutors to the participants. So what are possible options to clearly state the students do have a perception of the courses that wasn't intended?
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    I am having troubles understanding what concrete, answerable question you have. Can you please make this more explicit in an edit? – xLeitix Jan 12 '17 at 12:29
  • @xLeitix Please refer to my updated question - hopefully the edit makes it a bit clearer. – Christian Ivicevic Jan 12 '17 at 13:04

Your current title refers to these sessions as "Examination review courses". I have a hard time seeing any way around the fact that this is signaling that these sessions are, in fact, preparation for an exam.

One option would be to terminate these sessions if one didn't want to ever "teach to the test".

A second option would be to transition the main course to be focused more on conceptual discussions of the mathematics, and not mostly drill exercise sheets. Then the post-exam review sessions could still be focused on prepping the exam (as advertised), and you'd have the desired distinction between the two sessions. But I'd argue that trying to fix the conceptual issues in the post-exam sessions is putting the horse after the cart.

It is a fundamental problem that conceptual discussions prepare students better for the next step, but teaching-to-the-test gets higher pass rates (and happier students and administrators) at the current step. Someone recently cited a paper in that regard that I wish I could find again.

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