CTL Faculty E-Newsletter

Practice Exams and Econ 160 Grades: Using Teaching Fellows in a New Way

by Ruth Shields,
Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning

In Fall 2011, Instructor of Economics Jenny Tessendorf tried something new in Economics 160:  before the first exam, she gave students a chance to work through an old test during class.  “Bring your textbook, calculator, and notes,” she told them, and they worked in groups with her input for the entire class period.  By the end of class, the students had completed only 40% of the test—and on exam day, there would be no textbook, no peer collaboration, and no professor to work through questions.  

On exam day, however, Tessendorf’s Econ 160 students scored higher on this first exam than any single class among her years of teaching 160 students.  Tessendorf was so pleased with the results that she wanted to see it happen again—but how to do so without sacrificing so much class time? 

That’s when CTL came in.  In a meeting with me, Tessendorf mentioned the students’ exam success and the process that had led to it.  To me, the process sounded very much like what we ask the Teaching Fellows (TF) to do when working with students.  Could the Econ Teaching Fellows replicate Tessendorf’s process outside of class? 

Tessendorf and I created a special TF session dedicated to Econ 160 students (initially for Tessendorf and Associate Professor Feisal Khan’s classes), to be held 2 weeks prior to the next exam.  It seemed to work:  students did as well or better on the exams compared to previous semesters.  In addition, Econ 160 students began using regular TF hours more frequently, an unexpected bonus.

As a result of this success, Professors Tessendorf, Khan, and I wanted to see whether the students’ success was an anomaly (perhaps just a stronger than usual group of 160 students?), or whether this trend would continue across semesters.  We also felt the need to know more about the students’ motivation for taking Econ 160; background with Economics, math, and writing; and perceptions of themselves as learners in Economics, so we developed a survey.  Starting in Fall 2012 semester, CTL and the Econ 160 faculty have been administering this survey to students to help determine whether correlations exist between student characteristics and use of Teaching Fellow hours and success in the course.

We are still in the process of analyzing this data, but as a result of what we have found so far, we tweaked and re-administered the survey this Spring.  We are also sending a follow-up survey to the Fall 2012 Econ 160 students to discern any changes in comfort and confidence, and comparing this information with number of visits to Teaching Fellows and test scores.  Check back in the fall newsletter for updates!



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