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Cold calling

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Cold calling refers to a protocol used in classroom-style instruction settings (or other similar settings) where the instructor calls on individual students to ask questions posed by the instructor on a regular basis during lecture. The key feature of cold call is the unpredictability about who will get called for a particular question, or equivalently, the unpredictability for each individual about when he or she will get called.

Contents

Parameters

The implementation of cold calling can be tweaked in a number of ways. Some of these are described below.

Reveal point

The instructor can choose different possibilities in time for when to reveal who is being called to answer the question. Below are some possibilities:

Reveal point Advantage Disadvantage
Before stating the question to the class The individual student can listen clearly to the question and need not ask the instructor to repeat It forgoes one of the main benefits of cold calling: all students are trying to think of the answer to every question. Instead, since the name of the person answering is specified in advance, other students may reduce their level of attention.
Within a few seconds of stating the question to the class All students have had time to hear and process the question Individual students may not have been paying concentrated attention since they didn't know for sure that it's a question they might answer. Thus, the student who is asked the question may ask the instructor to repeat it.
Give a chunk of time to everybody to work out the answer (this may involve flipping through recent or earlier notes, or doing calculations, or taking time to formulate thoughts), and then reveal who'll be called All students have had time to hear and process the question and attempt an answer. Thus, they can grade themselves by proxy upon hearing the correct answer.
The technique can also be combined with checking seat work either before or after the cold call.
This takes more time, and students may slack off in that timespan of a few seconds if the material seems too easy or too difficult.

Dealing with non-response

The instructor can choose different possibilities for what to do if the student says "pass" or "I have no idea" or "not sure" or something equally non-informative. The strategies include:

Strategy Advantage Disadvantage
Press the student to try more (this may be accompanied with allotting a bit of extra time, providing a hint or cue, or modifying the question to make it somewhat easier) sends students a message that partial progress is possible
avoids sending the message that students can easily pass
in some cases, the student just isn't equipped to answer the question, and pressing the student can waste time and generate resentment.
Deprives other students of opportunity to answer, and therefore deprives them of incentives to work towards an answer.
Cold call another student results in more efficient reaching of the answer
sends message to students that they should keep thinking about how to solve the question even if somebody else is being asked the question.
sends message to students that they can easily "pass" on questions.
Switch to seeking voluntary participation results in more efficient reaching of the answer undermines part of the psychological pressure of cold calling (and the incentives it generates for paying attention), to a greater extent than the two preceding methods
Students may not be willing to volunteer answers
Return to either revealing the answer or re-teaching a relevant portion that makes the answer easier to obtain efficient use of time if a fixed amount of material needs to be covered undermines the psychological pressure of cold calling and the incentives it generates for paying attention.

Dealing with responses

Strategy Advantage Disadvantage
Do not immediately reveal your opinion on the response (i.e., whether it was correct, complete, etc.). Instead, seek answers from other students (using additional rounds of cold calling, polling, or voluntary participation). all students continue thinking about the question, and also learn to evaluate the plausibility of existing answers takes more time, particularly if the original answer is correct
Reveal minimal information (such as "right" or "wrong") and, if wrong, solicit more responses through cold calling, polling, or voluntary participation all students continue thinking about the problem, but the possibility space narrows somewhat, allowing students to discard some conjectures and hone in on others Takes more time compared to just revealing the answer
destroys the suspense compared to soliciting multiple answers before revealing "right" or "wrong"
Reveal the answer immediately takes less time reduces opportunities for students to think about and arrive at the answer