Benefits of Cumulative Exams

Dr Maryellen Weimer writes this week’s article on cumulative exams. Students often express worry over the possibility that their finals encompass a whole semester’s worth of material.

Although teachers should not ignore or discount student preferences across the board, there is the larger issue of which testing procedures best promote deep learning and lasting retention of course content. The evidence on the side of cumulative exams and finals is pretty much overwhelming, and those empirical results should not come as a surprise. An exam with questions on current and previous content encourages continued interaction with course material, and the more students deal with the content, the better the chances they will remember it. Students don’t like cumulative exams for the very reason they ought to be used: preparing for them requires more time and energy devoted to understanding and remembering course content.

What are we to do if students dislike a particular evaluation, yet that evaluation is the very center of evaluation of deep learning? Dr Weimer argues that professors should involve students in the rationale behind such exams from the beginning and offer them tools to make the process more approachable.

Designing Group Projects

This week, an article by Meg Bernhard on designing group projects offers these very insightful tips. She writes,

Instructors widely accept the benefits of assigning group work. Teamwork gives students a chance to hear multiple perspectives, and it can mirror real-world jobs, which employers like.


But recent research shows that if groups and assignments are structured hastily, they can be counterproductive.

Some of our takeaways from the article:

  • Intentionally constructing the group and understanding the learning tasks is necessary to reap the benefits.
  • Whenever possible, group composition should make sure there are no lone, marginalized students. Women in engineering groups or racial minority students who serve in groups as the “only” one often operate on the fringes of group projects due to stereotypes that shape the thinking of group members.
  • Set clear expectations for the kinds and quality of interactions that should ensue and assess them.
  • Particular disciplines lend themselves to group process more than others. Engineering, for example, requires more group-think than history, which usually entails individual research and analysis.

23 Techniques of Active Learning

This week’s posting offers 23 techniques of active learning. The techniques range from think/pair/share where students are prompted to think about a question, then share it in groups of two, and finally share it with the rest of the students, to peer surveys where students work together to fill out a summary of an idea or concept, with relevant information and remaining questions on the topic. Smaller activities are also listed such as the two column method which encourages students to classify things that would or would not apply to a concept, building their understanding as they proceed.

A Concise Guide to the Science of Learning

This week, we are treated to a concise guide to the science of learning. Annie Murphy Paul covers a lot of ground, providing resources for each principle, in particular those related to cognitive science. Here are two very interesting comments with related resources

Students have limited working memory capacities that can be overwhelmed by tasks that are cognitively too demanding . . . and so: we should help students break tasks down into manageable steps. (Read more about when to make learning easier and when to make it harder here.)


Each subject area has some set of facts that, if committed to long-term memory, aids problem-solving by freeing working memory resources and illuminating contexts in which existing knowledge and skills can be applied . . . and so: we should expect students to learn, understand, and remember this set of facts—not just be able to “Google it.” (Read more about the importance of committing facts to memory here.)

Find out more here.