In your course design, build in activities and space for conversations around students’ prior knowledge.
Here are six steps, adapted from Ambrose et al. How Learning Works, you can take to better understand your students’ prior knowledge
Talk to NYUAD colleagues: Connect with fellow teachers to explore prerequisite syllabi, assignments, and activities. You can ask colleagues about students’ proficiencies and what concepts and skills they were able to easily master. It is valuable to ask if students in your program hold any systemic misconceptions that you can help address. Doing this also helps you explicitly link new material to knowledge from previous courses to signal the relevance of knowledge from a previous course or experience. In this way, students can tap into their prior knowledge, allowing an inclusive classroom experience for the individual learner.
Administer a diagnostic Assessment: A the beginning of the semester, it is ideal to find out what relevant knowledge your students possess. You can assess skills and conceptual knowledge through a short quiz delivered through NYU Classes Tests and Quizzes, or NYU Qualtrics Survey. In this short assessment, students can define key terms, or solve essential quantitative equations giving you a picture of overall preparedness.
One options for doing this to deliver a concept inventory. These are ungraded tests, typically multi-choice, that reveal common misconceptions.
For more on using concept inventories you can read: David Sands, Mark Parker, Holly Hedgeland, Sally Jordan & Ross Galloway (2018) Using concept inventories to measure understanding, Higher Education Pedagogies, 3:1, 173-182, DOI: 10.1080/23752696.2018.1433546
You can have your students assess their own knowledge and experiences relative to your course. Consider the concepts and skills you expect students to have as they come into your course. You can ask students to evaluate themselves on a scale:
The students response can help you accurate calibrate your instruction to meet students where they are.
Group brainstorming activities help expose students’ prior knowledge about their beliefs, associations, and assumptions. Prompts can be used to expose factual or conceptual.
A concept map activity in which students map everything they know about a given subject, will help you gain insights into what your students know about a given subject.
Here is a resource for how to design your activity effectively, and assess student work if necessary: Active Learning – Concept Maps by LeighAnn Tomaswick & Jennifer Marcinkiewicz, Kent State University, 2018
You can target instruction to correct misconceptions by identifying in patterns of students work. By understanding the students prior knowledge through this systemic analysis exercise, you can work to fill gaps in understanding. Online polling (for example using PollEV.com) can work well to quickly collect student responses to concept questions. Note that this approach works well even in small classes because it is anonymous and enables students to admit confusion or participate more freely in sharing their understanding as a result.
Such exercises expose insufficient prior knowledge and enable you to pivot to meet the students where they are. You can also sign up to use the Learning Analytics Dashboard, a special data analysis feature in NYU Classes. If you are interested in activating this tool please contact NancyGleason@nyu.edu to discuss.