Students’ background knowledge and skills vary widely - Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Students’ background knowledge and skills vary widely

Many courses, especially survey-level courses, enroll students with a broad range of backgrounds, previous educational experiences, majors, interests, motivations as well as levels of important prior knowledge and skills. In many instances, this diversity is manageable and if handled skillfully can provide substantial benefits to the educational context of the classroom. However, when the distribution of the class is such that there are two distinct groups of students with radically disparate levels of knowledge and skills (a bi-modal distribution), there is a limited range of solutions that instructors may use to manage this difficult situation.

To find the most effective strategies, select the reason that best describes your situation, keeping in mind there may be multiple relevant reasons.

The course has no specific prerequisites.

The course draws students across majors.

The course is cross-listed as graduate and undergraduate.

Students have different high school experiences.

International students have different (stronger or weaker) cultural and language knowledge and skills.

Students range from first-years to seniors.

Students have varying motivations for taking a course.

The course is offered as a summer course and attracts students with radically different skills and motivation.

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