Assisting the students to succeed in class with extra help is rewarding and demanding at the same time. I usually provide a review session for my class before each test. This would – at least I hope – be helpful for some students who need clarifications or extra explanations while they try to master the materials for the exam the next day.
Offering review sessions to the students is completely voluntary, and it is not even required for the students to attend. I use this as an informal way to provide additional help for those who may benefit. So, I do not have any negative feeling about the professors who would not offer such a session or students who do not bother to show up despite my gesture with extra help.
One of the demanding things for me to make the review session happen is classroom reservation in timely manner. I learned from experience that you may not be able to book a classroom if you wait till the last minute as other classes may request the same place at the time you need to meet. I usually request the classroom reservation to the Registrar’s Office as soon as I complete my class schedule in the beginning of the semester. Only tricky time to set up a review session is before the final exam during the long semester. Because there is a week-long study period at UT when we cannot provide any substantial class or exam activity during the period, I usually need to wait toward the end of the semester when I can get a confirmation. Otherwise, it is usually a smooth process to book a classroom. One merit of having review sessions, for me, is that I get to experience many new classrooms in different buildings on campus.
I usually prepare a PowerPoint slides for the review session and post them on Blackboard with timer set so it would become available to the students after the review session is done. This is nothing but a compilation of selected previous lecture slides to use as a quick overview or a material for questions. I always ask to class at the review session whether they want to ask questions first and I answer them, or I skim through the slides with quick statements first and accept questions afterward. Perhaps 99% of the time they prefer the latter.
I begin the review session by stating two preemptive remarks: I already have my answers for the following two questions. If you ask me “Should I study this?” then I would say “Yes.” If you ask me “Will this be on the test?” then I would say “I cannot tell you.” Otherwise, I would try my best to explain and clarify the questions you have, I say. I started to tell this from the early time of my teaching when I noticed that so many students actually ‘tried to extract some clues about the exam questions’ without having much interest in learning the concepts or contents. Some student could be very persistent in asking me a series of rather manipulative questions to get clues about the exam questions or to see if some materials they could skip. At first I loathed such attitude, but later I became more understanding or at least more calm in handling such students. It is always rewarding to see some students show obvious glaring smile in their faces after they finally cleared the confusion in their mind with my explanations.
For several years, I also provided an additional review session online on Blackboard after the actual review session for any additional help needed. The Blackboard has a chat room function, so I could open up a chat room for my class for a set period of time (e.g. 10pm-12am). I can see who actually actively participate (ask me questions) and who might merely be an passive observers (enter the chat room but quietly watch what others say). Sometimes there can be a long pause before anyone posts a question, and other times there can be a burst of multiple questions posted at the same time. I answer them in chronological order by stating whose answer I am answering. I would need to inform the late entering students to check the conversation from the bottom (oldest) to avoid asking the same question. Occasionally I would have to type my answer as fast I can possibly do to keep up with the flooding questions. One day, when I was still traveling to Austin from Port Aransas for teaching, I was staying at a local Bed & Breakfast and I opened up a chat session with my class at late night before a midterm exam. I was busy answering the questions which were bracketed by irregularly placed pauses. I noticed something was odd during one particularly long pause. It was longer than usual pauses. What I realized then was I was somehow disconnected from internet in my room. The network connection was down for the room for a while. Luckily, I called the manager and reconnected the network within 15-20 minutes. I thought I had lost all participating students in the chat room. To my surprise, there were ever active conversations going on at the chat room. I scrolled to the time when I had been cut off from connection. Few students started to notice that I was out and they were confused. Some even joked that I deserted them. What really impressed me was, as soon as I was taken out from conversation accidentally, students picked up the questions and began to answer themselves. The were helping one another! Although I had to apologize my accidental drop out but I was enthusiastically welcomed by the students. It was an interesting experience that I did not plan to learn.
I may not be always successful in convincing the students that learning is more important than figuring out the test questions, especially during the review session, but I think they can benefit anyway by having additional opportunity to speak with the professor to clarify their confusion and have more explanations. This makes me happy. One bonus by providing the review sessions is that you get to meet (and know) your students more and have a better chance to build a good rapport with them.