Learning Occurred! Well, Maybe

As I’ve mentioned before, I conduct a pre- and post-test in my intro to US Politics course that is part citizenship test, part true-false questionnaire about issues in US politics.  The first part allows me to assess if learning may have occurred between the start and end of the course, while the latter half lets students assess how their views may or may not have changed on issues such as gun control, the death penalty, and same-sex marriage following our discussions on such issues.  The results are in!

On the pre-test, students scored an average of 2.88 (median 3) out of 10.  On the post test, the students scored a 7.44 (median 7.5) out of 10.  I excluded the two students who dropped the course following the exam and another two students who did not attend the final class; including them does not substantially change the results (it lowers the average pre-test score to a 2.86).  On average, students changed 3.8 of their answers on the true false questions, with a median of 2.

Did learning occur?  Maybe.  The post-test was exactly the same as the pre-test, so there might have been some bias there. In the past I have used entirely different post-tests from pre-tests, and the data was similar–almost all students failed (less than 6 correct) on the pre-test, and almost all passed on the post-test. Although this was not a test they could cram for–indeed there was no incentive to do so as it was ungraded, and they had their take-home final exam already to stress about–it is entirely possible that they will forget what they learned, despite my use of many active learning techniques in the class.

But I have reason to hope!  In my methods class this week, I asked one of my students from last year’s US Politics 8 week class to tell me some reasons why the US has low turnout in presidential elections and he was able to rattle off the most important ones.  It may have been a fluke, but at least I have one positive data point for long-term retained knowledge!

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