Week 32017-07-24T12:19:44+08:00

Project Description


Getting Students to do Assigned Readings



Last week’s tip addressed the issue of how much reading to assign and provided a guide to estimating the number of hours a typical student might need to do assigned readings.   Unfortunately, many of us have experienced the situation where students arrive at class and a significant proportion have not done the readings.  This is especially troublesome if the pedagogy within the course involves discussion or analysis of the readings.  Below I provide a few suggestions on how to incentivize students to do the assigned reading before class.

Require a pre-class reflection

For classes where discussion of assigned reading materials is an important component of the in class learning activity one option is to have students post a required short reflection in Moodle on the before class.  For undergraduate classes it may be necessary and certainly wise to explain what a reading reflection is and a guideline of what you expect.   My guidelines for reflections are to answer the following three queries, what was the key idea or take home lesson in the reading? what did you take away/learn from the reading?  How does assigned reading contribute to the class?  I routinely assign reading reflections in my graduate seminar courses. One efficient approach it to have the reflection posts be submitted via Moodle’s discussion forum tool.   See Tip one for how to set up a discussion forum where one can easily compile student forum responses.  Operationally I make all reflections due by 6:00 AM the morning of the class.  By having a consistent due time, students always know when the reflection is due.  This also gives me me adequate time to compile and skim the reflections before class.  It is easy to quickly skim through the compiled reflections and rapidly assigned a score.  I score reflections on a 0 to 3 scale, with zero when nothing submitted by due date, one for reflections of poor or marginal quality, two for an adequate but not exceptional reflection, and three for an exceptional reflection, one that shows insight, brings in new information, e.g. impresses me, see the rubric below.

Reading Reflection Scoring Rubric




Missing, nothing posted


Poor or marginal quality, little or no evidence of effort, simply restates the article, no reflection, turned in on time F to D level work/effort.


Solid post, identifies key points, states what they learned, evidence of appropriate effort, clear that they read and thought about the reading.  This is the expected score,  C to B level work


Exemplary post, clear they read and thought about the reading, provides new insights and/or perspective, may include reference to prior reading or other material, may challenge points in the reading,  A level work


Any 2 or 3 level post that is turned in after the forum closes

I generally assign 10 to 20 percent of the class assessment points for reading reflection posts activity.   To convert the reflection scores to a score use in assignment of the final grade I do the following.  I drop the two lowest refection scores (this allows a student to miss two posting without being penalize) and total the rest to get the student’s raw score.  To convert this score to the final course reflection points I determine an index number, e.g. what I would expect for a B performance. To get the index number I multiple 2 times (the total required posts -2, to compensate for dropping the two lowest scores), I then then divide the students raw score the by index number and multiply this percentage by class assessment points for reading reflections.  For example, if there are 12 required postings, that I multiply 2 X (12-2) = 20, this give an index factor of 20. If a student raw score is 20; then raw score/index number = 20/20 = 1 and the student gets 100% of the course reading reflection assessment points, if the raw score is 15 then 15/20 = 0.75 and the student get 75% of the course reading reflection assessment points, if the raw score is 25 points then 25/20 = 1.25 and the student gets 125% of the course reading reflection assessment points. I allow students to submit late reflections since the process of writing reflections is a learning process and I don’t have to deal with request for extensions or excuses for why it is late, in addition because the two lowest scores are dropped, I don’t grant any extensions.  The maximum score they can receive for each late posts is one.  Operationally I closed e.g. hide the Moodle discussion forum a few hours after class, but have a separate semester long forum entitled “Late Submissions” where they can post reflections that are past due.

Require Completion of a Short On-line Quiz or Questionnaire

For undergraduate courses where much of the reading is from a textbook, I require students to complete an online quiz based on the assigned reading.  For a previous introductory biology course (>200 students) I used auto graded multiple-choice questions.  The purpose was to provide an incentive for students to open the textbook and read the assigned chapter.  My experience and student responses from end of the class surveys suggests that the biggest hurdle in getting students to read the textbook is to have them open it.   I often used M/C questions from the end of the chapter or those provided by the publisher.  Unfortunately, developing auto graded quiz questions using the Moodle quiz tool can be time-consuming.  One trick in setting up repetitive auto graded quizzes in Moodle is to first develop a prototype quiz with all the correct settings and then use the duplication function to clone the quiz.  This way you only need to edit the timing and the question and answer components of the duplicated quiz. An alternative is to use the questionnaire tool and give a low number of points for those that complete the questionnaire prior to class.  In this case I close the questionnaire 30 minutes before the start of class and those students who miss it forfeit the participation point(s).  In Moodle questionnaires can include M/C questions, but the answers are not graded.

Give Students Choice in the Assigned Readings

A third way to help incentivize student reading of assigned texts, is to reduce the amount of text they need to read, while this sounds counterproductive in fact it can be quite useful.  One approach is to assign 3 to 4 readings and allow students to choose one or two and reflect on those.  While not every student will have read every assigned reading enough students will have read each of the readings so that it is possible to hold a discussion on each of them.   Moreover, since the student posted reflections that are available to all students every student has the opportunity through the work of their peer to see the key points of each of the readings.   In my graduate courses this is worked exceedingly well and was greatly appreciated by the students.  It also gives me feedback on which items they chose to read, this in combination the reflections helps me to refine the assigned reading for the next time I offer the course.

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