Students’ background knowledge and skills vary widely - Enhancing Education - Carnegie Mellon University

Step 2: Identify Reasons

Identify possible reasons for the problem you have selected.
To find the most effective strategies, select the reason that best describes your situation, keeping in mind there may be multiple relevant reasons.

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.

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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learning principles

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning. MORE>
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know. MORE>
  3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn. MORE>
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned. MORE>
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning. MORE>
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning. MORE>
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning. MORE>