Friday, February 13, 2009

Getting Students To Prepare For Class

This semester, my advanced corporate finance class is going better than it ever done before. The class is about 80% case-based (the rest is lectures used to support the cases), so having the students come to class prepared is the main determinant as to whether the class goes well or not: If they've read and thoroughly analyzed the case before coming to class, leading the discussion is easy. If they haven't, it can be deadly dull and frustrating.

So, what's the difference this time around?

At the beginning of every class, I flip a coin (usually a quarter). A student calls it. At the beginning of the semester, I told them "If you call it right, you win - you get to demonstrate your knowledge; If you don't I win because I don't have to grade anything". If they "win", they get a brief one or two question quiz. The questions are generally very straightforward and test their general knowledge of the case, like "what was the market reaction (within 3%) to the announcement of the firm's restructuring, or "name one concern of the manager of XYZ division". They're straightforward and fairly easy so that, if they've read the case, they have a very high probability of getting it right. If not, they have almost no chance.

The kicker is that it's easy to make the coin come up whatever way you want. When you catch it, while it's in your palm, run your thumb over the surface. With many coins, you can tell what side it's on (try it with a quarter, and you'll see). If you then put the coin in your hand so that it is partway between between your first and middle fingers, you can roll it so that it comes up whatever way you want. If you have difficulty telling which side is which, take a very small piece of scotch tape and put it on one site of the coin- it's essentially invisible except under very close inspection, but makes the coin feel different on that side.

So, they get expect a quiz every day, and come to class prepared. And, you can control when they get a quiz. They're easy to grade, and they get about 10% of their grade based on the total % of the quiz questions they get right.

Since a critical mass of my students now come to class having read the material beforehand, I have a much easier time in class - it's the third week of class, and I haven't had one case where three straight students in a row haven't read the material. So, the discussions are much more lively, and the analysis is much better. And best of all, you don't have the usual dead weight slowing the class down as much.