MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXIII No. 2
November / December 2010
MIT's Foreign Policy?; S3 & Institute Committees; Landscaping
MIT Promotion and Tenure Processes
Student Support Services:
Reorganized, Reviewed, and Redefined
Support the New START Treaty
MIT150: MIT Open House
Follows a Long Tradition
A Missed Opportunity: Saving Oil and Foreign Exchange with a Great Reducation in Emissions
Looking at the Numbers
Affordable Course Materials
Maintaining our Resolutions: Implementing the MIT Faculty Open Access Policy
Finding Appropriate Support for
Students with Disabilities
From a Whistle to a Hum: Facilities Upgrades Enhance the Resilience of the Campus Steam Distribution System
ICIS: International Center for
Integrative Systems
MIT EMS: A Student-Run Jewel
Stellar Next Generation
Work-Life Resources Now Available 24/7
Cost of Nuclear Energy is Misrepresented
No Mention of Geothermal Energy
Connect with MIT's Global Community
National Research Council (NRC) Finally Releases Doctoral Program Rankings
NRC 2010 Doctoral Program Rankings: Percent Ranked 1 in R or S Rankings
NRC 2010 Doctoral Program Rankings: Percent Ranked in Top 3 in R or S Rankings
Printable Version

Teach Talk

Looking at the Numbers

Patrick Henry Winston

Each week, students in 6.034, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, attend, or are supposed to attend, two lectures, a recitation section, a tutorial, and a quiz preparation session. Lectures introduce the big picture and editorialize; recitations provide opportunity for discussion; tutorials focus on the homework; and the quiz preparation sessions explain how to work past quiz problems.

We have argued, over the years, about how the four very different elements correlate with performance, and wondered which element, if any, we could drop. During the 2009 final, we asked students to estimate the percentage of the lectures, recitations, tutorials, and quiz sessions he or she attended. About 85% of about 200 students gave us their estimates.

It wasn't a scientific study, because the students were just guessing and perhaps did not trust our assertion that the estimates would have no effect on grades. Also, we have a highly nonstandard and nonlinear way of computing scores (see previous Faculty Newsletter article).

Nevertheless, points of interest emerged. For example, we noted that recitation and tutorial attendance were plainly bimodal, in line with our previous impressions. Curiously, quiz session attendance was less sharply bimodal and lectures not at all.

We were pleased to see there was a positive correlation between scores and the percentage of each type of element attended. We had braced ourselves against the possibility that the regression lines would be flat or nearly so.






























Of course, we reminded ourselves not to confuse correlation with cause. A likely explanation for the positive slopes is that those who take the subject more seriously are more engaged in general, and that more engaged means spending more time studying as well as dragging oneself out of bed for a 10 am lecture.

On the other hand, we would not have been all that crushed if a more careful study produced gentler slopes. All that the lines measure is problem-solving skill demonstrated on examinations. We don't know how to measure, for example, whether a powerful idea gets conveyed or a passion develops. Feedback on that comes in only anecdotally, sometimes decades later.

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