November 25, 2011

Evaluate the Muddiest Point with Online Surveys

The Muddiest Point

The Minute Paper, One Sentence Summary, What's the Principle, and the Muddiest Point are popular assessment techniques that provide instructors effective feedback on what students have learned during their class. Students typically complete these assessments at the end of class. The Muddiest Point originated in 1989 from Harvard Professor of Statistics Professor Frederick Mosteller’s who asked his students to summarize key points and what more they wanted to know.  One of his students perceptively pointed out that there really wasn’t any feedback because students essentially were repeating the professor’s key points and were unable to precisely state what more they wanted to know.

So Mosteller asked what were their muddiest (least understood) points and received many important and concrete results, which he summarized. Based on these results Mosteller would prepare special handouts to address common points of confusion that would be studied by students needing this information outside of class. Mosteller's article describing his experience with assessing student feedback is recommended reading for anyone who is interested in assessment and improving their teaching:

Mosteller had his students write down their muddiest points on pieces of paper, which were typed into a summary format and distributed. Online survey tools such as Google Forms bypass the use of paper, retyping the comments and printing handouts, thus faciliating the process of collecting, summarizing, and sharing student feedback.

Example survey question
Once students have submitted their feedback, the Google spreadsheet results can be shared with them as a link.  

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