At the beginning of every class this semester, I ask my students to answer two questions. First, I ask them how much “flippin'” work they did to prepare for class. To get a “3” (out of 5), they have to watch the flipped video lecture, complete the External Brain assignment (which often is a rather vague list of suggested questions to think about), and also prep for lab. To get a 4 or 5, they need to spend additional hours studying. Their responses are all self-reported…I have no way to verify accuracy, though I implore them to be honest as their feedback informs decisions I make about my pedagogy. I then ask them to assess the completeness of their External Brain assignment by thinking about how close the document is to where they want it, for use on the External Brain exam.
Now, keep in mind that my students are a highly motivated bunch and with this comes a bit of grade-obsession. They work hard and they want their grades to reflect their efforts (though we all know “effort” doesn’t always correlate with “understanding”). So one such motivated student approached me after class the other day and expressed frustration with having to assess his External Brain BEFORE class began. His complaint, which I found really interesting, was that there was no way his External Brain was complete before class began, no matter how much time he spent working on it. Lecture and lab always informed improvements and additions he would make to his document, and knowing this, he felt like he had to report a poor grade on the “How complete is your External Brain?” self-assessment. This, of course, didn’t make him happy and he wanted me to know that just because he was reporting a low “readiness” number at the beginning of class, it didn’t mean he wasn’t using the External Brain in the way I was intending it to be used.
His concern made me think about how I am using the External Brain, and I think I agree with him. For me, the External Brain serves the purpose of MOTIVATING students to prepare adequately for my flipped class. But really, none of us should expect the External Brain to be a complete and polished document at the beginning of class, because students will be making revisions and additions based on the things that HAPPEN during class and lab. I think this is a positive thing, because it indicates that not only do the students value the activities that happen during class, but they value their External Brains too.