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Exam questions for CERE module

Here are example exam questions and notes on answers for the CERE level 4 module. The exam in 2012 will require you to answer 1 question chosen from 3.

In considering what makes a good exam answer likely to earn a high mark, you should of course first consult the general level 4 handbook. In addition, there is a section on generally what makes a first class answer in the Critical Review document that is relevant. Generally, the style of question is to pose a general issue which you should answer using the cases you personally have come across or revised.

For this particular course and topic, I will also be particularly interested in demonstrations that show you know how to apply the various theories to specific concrete cases and examples, and cases that are your own rather than given in the lectures will attract extra credit. Discussing how a case seems to pose a problem for a theory because it might be analysed in more than one way, or because the theory seems unable to address some important aspect of the case, will also allow you to demonstrate critical thought in this context.

Universal rubrics

Unless otherwise stated, assume all of the following apply as implicit parts of an exam question:

Actual exam questions from 2014

What are the things a leaner actually needs a teacher for? Does the teacher ever have to be present? State the relative importance of each point you make, and give reasons for it.

When and how is tutoring important for learning? Can you deny that people can learn by theselves succeessfully? State the relative importance of each point you make, and give reasons for it.

Use the theories on learning and teaching which you have encountered to analyse as fully as possible one course you are familiar with (for instance this one). Critique the match between the course design and each theory. Discuss in each case whether any deficiencies are due to the theory or the course implementation or neither.

Actual exam questions from 2013

For each kind of function or service a teacher provides in HE, is it essential, and what teacher-learner ratio is necessary?

Answer sketch:
This is an invitation to talk about the 3 roles for a teacher. However the teacher-learner ratio depends not only on which role you are discussing, but also some other things. If I cover exposition by writing a text book, then any number of learners is possible; while if I do it by lecture I am limited by the room size; and if I deliver a class with learner-teacher interaction then this limits size again. On the other hand, if I choose the learning-activity of peer interaction, this can be done with very large learner:teacher ratios. The role of selecting the syllabus (the learning objectives) at first seems to allow for huge ratios, but you might comment that such selection in principle should take account of the variable background of students, and the larger the student numbers the more is the pressure to address this: and that is likely to end up introducing some limit. Either by: this class will only take Scottish students who have been exposed to Burns' poetry, or by adding interactive activities to address variability. A case in point is having GU courses on medical services, which attract students from very different countries with quite different medical facilities. If they just lecture on what is recommended for Glasgow practice it won't be much use for Nigerian students, but can they afford to spend a lot of time discussing how "best" practice must vary from place to place.

Describe the course topic that was most interesting to you. Justify, discuss and illustrate this both in relation to its general social and educational importance, and to your personal experience.

What is the importance of interaction in learning and teaching? Can people learn without it? Interaction with whom or what?

Answer sketch:
A number of topics are relevant: you might not be able to address them all in one answer. Human interaction: between a) teacher and learner; b) peer interaction amongst learners. But also, interaction with the concrete external world e.g. in labs. The "super principle" of iteration and convergence in effect represents this, and in the Laurillard model applies BOTH to interaction amongst the people concerned AND the interaction of public/private (of theory with concrete practice).

But you could also mention the "triad" of read, write, discuss. In reading, you interact with the author: it might be one-way, yet you typically "iterate" as you try to work out what the author means. In writing, you the learner are in charge, and as you write you come to discover what your own view is, as you draw on several authors to construct something of your own. If, as almost everyone does, you go through several drafts, you are interacting (and iterating). Finally in discussing, you use peer interaction to prompt you out of focussing only on either the author or yourself; and entertain yet other points of view.

Actual exam questions from 2012

What other important issues in learning and teaching does the paper on the benefit of watching videos of tutorials by Chi (2008) relate to?

Answer sketch:
Scaffolding, contingent tutoring; cheap / cost effectiveness; compare, like Bloom, this with 1:1 tutoring and highest known effectiveness; peer interaction (does the video even matter?); self-explanation (peers and tutors only matter to the extent that they elicit self-explanations.)

Is it the teacher's responsibility to motivate learners? Would this imply that there can be no free choice for learners, just less or more indoctrination?

Answer sketch:
Motivation: neoVygotskianism; Pintrich; Piaget argument on no informed choice in education.

Given that many students say that they dislike working in groups, is peer discussion really important for learning? Are we confusing issues of social cohesion with those of education?

Answer sketch:
Don't have to like someone to learn from them. Sherif shows, as does Jigsaw, that liking follows, not precedes, liking.

Actual exam questions from 2011

Does social psychology have anything important to contribute to education?

Answer sketch:
This was an invitation to discuss the various topics brought up that illustrate that my own bias towards solo cognitive issues won't really do in education e.g. Rosenthal's Pygmalion effect of teacher expectations; neo-Vygotskian notions of how learners participate differently in direct interactions than in learning alone; Sfard's participation vs. acquisition metaphors for learning, perhaps social vs. ordinary constructivism, and so on. Above all, probably, the issue of peer interaction (wholly missing from Laurillard's model) and how it doesn't really seem reducible to thinking of peers as substitute teachers. We learn differently from peers than from teachers, and probably really need both. A really good answer might attempt (what I myself haven't got a good synthesis for yet) to comment on the relationship of social and solo aspects in learning.

What is the combination of hindering and helping that peers represent for a learner? Comment on your own use and experience of peer interaction and how productive you judge it to have been.

Answer sketch:
This is about peers, not other social aspects of learning, but it explicitly requires you to connect your own feelings in past cases to the pros and cons as uncovered in the literature.

A good answer would try to comment on all the ways peers affect you. If you are viewing an essay as a product to generate, not a learning experience, then often others (peers) just slow you down. If you want to learn the maximum, then getting their objections in time to revise your product will improve it. One could argue that peers will always feel unpleasant because they prompt Piagetian "accommodation" i.e. show you what is wrong with your ideas, and no-one likes having to change their mind even though it is an important aspect of learning. In contrast, the ideal expert answers your questions thus saving you effort but doesn't tell you that you have a silly question. The naive (Perry stage A) view of teachers is that they are there to save you work. Peers don't do so well at that. But one could see peer discussion as mostly about coming across problems with your view: stimuli for Perry C.

However peers are most often used for the "management layer": for telling you when deadlines are, or what was meant by some instruction; comparing your marks to and thus giving meaning to an otherwise unanchored marking scale; discussing ways of doing things, etc. Imagining you were the only student on a course, but didn't get any more of the teacher than now, might be a way of thinking yourself into this issue.

I'm coming round to the view that peer discussion has always been a vital part of learning, and only recently has been relatively neglected. See this new essay of mine: Reading, discussing, writing.

Which is the most useful for improving learning and teaching: theories, effect sizes, or concrete learning designs?

Answer sketch:
There is no short answer to this: it invited a discussion of the different contributions of the three things. What I had in mind was this:
a) Bloom's argument about effect sizes is that by looking at the magnitude of effects actually demonstrated on learners, we can pick out interventions that make a useful difference without understanding why one plausible method has a big benefit and another that looks equally plausible has a tiny benefit. Your theory doesn't have to be good enough to make exact quantitative predictions.
b) Theories help structure our observations, and prompt invention of new teaching methods, but they have very little ability to predict in advance (as opposed to post hoc) how much extra learning outcome will result from a given intervention. (Not least, because most interventions / learning designs satisfy several theories at once.) For instance, Laurillard's model is useful for prompting a course designer to consider how each of the 12 activities could/should be supported; but it doesn't predict which it is most important to support better in a particular course. One big reason for this is that learners gradually learn to internalise the activities (e.g. by silent replies to the teacher in their head), and as they do, they lose the need for class time to address that activity explicitly.
c) Concrete learning designs are what a practitioner needs in order to adopt a design, and take advantage of an idea. Perry for example describes the development progression that is desirable, but says nothing direct about how to achieve it. Conversely, great learning designs typically tick mulitiple boxes simultaneously: they are not generated by a single theory. For instance reciprocal peer critiquing gives students practice at making the judgements on quality that they need to apply to their own work, but also gets them some comments on their work to think about, and still more, lets them see alternative ways other students did the "same" task: which is what students typically value the most. What is clever about the design is that it hits all these benefits at once; in a design where the benefits are reciprocal (you don't have to hire new staff to service each student, the rewards are built in); and which then also usually bonds the group socially which is usually beneficial. So good learning designs are NOT the one obvious consequence of a single theory, but a whole art in themselves. Indeed, when I study the great learning designs (as measured by learning outcome benefits) I may discover there is a theory deficit: some aspect of learning active in the design but not described by a theory I know.

Actual exam questions from 2010

Does teaching make a difference to undergraduate learning? Make the strongest arguments for and against that you can, and then state what your overall view is.

Answer sketch 1:
See this wiki.
My own comment: Does a good job of mentioning many relevant things in the course. As commented on by others, the sections by different people weren't welded together well. But this is more than a stylistic blemish: a truly first class answer would try to see through the surface of this slightly simplistic question ("do teachers make a difference?" -- sometimes yes, sometimes no), and summarise where teachers do and don't make a difference, and so where teachers are really just wasting time e.g. in lecturing; and/or change the question to a discussion of when teachers are important, when peers are.

Another answer sketch 2:

  • Tough: shows we can learn by DIY; but Wiliam says teacher is the biggest factor in learner outcomes. Chi 2008 shows teacher exposition is ineffective, T getting L to construct is effective.
  • DrFox: delivery style not crucial; but Bloom showed 1:1 tutoring is much better than whole class teaching.
  • Wood: need contingency. Hake's interactive engagement shows this is possible in HE; but using peers not T?
  • Catalytic argument on why and how peer Interaction is effective. (and ref. to Perry; and that it isn't a trait but probably a response to the right context).
  • So it looks like Ts don't do it but really, it is Ts who need to create the situation /Learning-activity AND to persuade learners (motivation) to do it AND to introduce [scaffold?] them.
  • Ls need Ts to recognise them [teacher monitoring]; and to create a social place in the classroom for comparisons and cohesion. Link to Maslow and Heylighen: T monitoring etc. to create that Maslow kind of motivation, because autonomous learning is too weak for undergraduates to be reliable.
  • Mention Sfard.
  • Conclusion: we can do better than transmission; but Teachers are needed. Ie. my model of there being 3 different roles for teachers.

    Answer sketch 3:
    a) 3 Teacher roles, not just presentation/delivery.
    b) Explicitly discuss Teacher vs. peers vs. solo [most people assume it is just one of the 2-way contrasts from this pool of 3]
    c) Perhaps mention the big theories. Perhaps say these are neutral w.r.t. the question: and is that a criticism of the theories?
    d) Perhaps conclude with the classic role of a Teacher for adults: to answer "what do I (most) need to know about this?", which is what bosses have to be briefed on constantly. This is the curriculum design role; and probably close to our intuitive view of why we want an expert / consultant / teacher. Perhaps too it is a difference between learner-directed instrumental learning where they may well know what they need to know, vs. general education in a field.?

    Compare and contrast several different important senses of high and low quality learning.

    Answer sketches 1-3:
    See these wikis: A   B   C  
    My own comments on these: The comments on these sketches given by other students were of variable quality: but some were quite good. I particularly liked one by Katherine.

    Here are some "examiner" type comments, rather than interesting ideas. When I wrote the question, I expected all students to discuss all or most of the main theories that qualify for this (see sketch 4 below): so at first I'd think 'C' (Lisa and Catriona's) wasn't answering the question. But, depending a bit on how well they developed their answer, I'd start welcoming a non-standard response, and realising that a focus on Belenky's connected learning is actually very relevant and interesting, so I'd end up giving a good mark. It's particularly interesting because (the essay made me realise) that both connected and non-connected learners would think that their own learning was high quality and the other type was low quality.

    Similarly I hadn't expected to see Mastery Learning (ML), but I agree it's entirely relevant. In my view, ML is about guaranteeing breadth (competence) not depth: another important sense of "good". I.e. it works by having students identify the bit they personally didn't get the first time, and fix it. A problem universities have now is that students arrive with, at best, As from school, but that generally means they have no grasp of at least 30% of the content in subjects they took. If it's something that is needed for university courses, this is a terrible drawback: like letting a pilot fly a plane when he only knows how to take off, not land. I also liked Manus' and Angela's mention of strategic learning: an important issue that I didn't mention in talking about deep and shallow. However I don't think they are right to say that Perry talks about connections and personal experience.

    Tony&Louise's: was what I expected, but for high marks, it would need concrete examples to show what the issues mean.

    Answer sketch 4:
    This question is an invitation to discuss and compare: Perry's stage A vs. stage C; deep vs. shallow learning; and (from Laurillard) the public vs. private aspects of a concept. Could perhaps add a discussion of Sfard's acquisition vs. participation metaphors, but she emphasises that it's a mistake to think of these as good vs. bad. The high marks would depend on illustrating the answer with concrete issues or cases.

    However Mastery Learning and breadth vs. depth are also interesting points; as is Belenky's connected (or not) learning. All these offer quite different answers to "what is quality?" in learning. (In fact, these show that students' answers are quite often more interesting than the examiner's thinking.)

    3. Answer both parts.
    a) Discuss a few big effects in education, and the sense in which they are "big".
    b) Discuss whether the main value of what is learned in higher education is content, a way of thinking, or something else.

    Answer sketches 1 & 2:
    See these wikis: A   C  

    Answer sketch 3:
    The big effects (e.g. Mazur, chick-sexing, ...) are a quick way to show that big improvements can be made. But "big" there means something like effect size on tests. The wider question is whether the tests used are getting at the kind of learning we really want. With Mazur, in fact, the answer was "yes": he used an inventory that tested for deep learning, so the gains were not only big in quantity, but were exactly the right quality for what was needed to solve the educational problem that had motivated him. But it is an interesting question, what the important "quality" is in education generally, and in a specific discipline in particular. In this dept. (in this exam), the test is not of having learned anything like all the content "in" the course, but on the quality (roughly "critical thinking") of how the student discusses it: a "way of thinking". We should probably be thinking and reading more about other kinds of value in HE. Shulman argued that the chief point of a medical course was learning a "way of being": meaning to include behaviour and ethics and attitudes as important parts of the curriculum, whether or not mentioned there. I've encountered one or two cases that upset my usual theories, where the value seems to have been essentially that the teacher somehow conveyed to his students a fascination about the subject, a great personal interest in it, rather than any facts or concepts at all.

    My comments: Sketch 3 shows what I was thinking in setting the question. It is also possible that I shouldn't have crammed two questions into one.

    Here's some thoughts on what "big" is. Firstly: if you read the details of the "big" results, they show a variety of senses of "big". Highly significant is not one of them: that just means high certainty, and probably robustness; but that can be true of small differences. Bloom talked in terms of the number of StDevs, which is what "effect size" means to statisticians; but Mazur showed an absolute tripling of the quantity learned: gigantic; and Biederman showed implicitly a huge reduction in absolute time to learn to a criterion. Kat talked about additional support for learning: not in terms of my assumptions about quantity of learning on a standard test. I don't want to call that big: but obviously Kat can reasonably argue that it is big in social terms (instead of in quantity learned), and indeed it is probably a good example of Sfard's "participation" aspect of learning because it transforms the ability of students with disabilities to participate in the activities of the bulk of their peers; whereas my quantity approach is the essence of Sfard's "acquisition" aspect.

    Critique of my first sample below: questions 1-3

    Reading over my sample questions below I'm not pleased with them in some ways.

    Firstly though: what I like about them. They illustrate the idea of taking a general theme and drawing on lots of bits of the course to argue for and against: not regurgitating a fixed idea, not being limited to one subtopic, not organising an answer as true or false, but "playing" in the sense of assembling elements into a novel structure for the answer. They are quite good at that.

    What I don't like: they are all of one type, and leave out important areas of the course in a way that a real exam paper for CERE should not. They do not explicitly explore the "stunning facts and cases" aspect. And they do not explore the analysis, and perhaps generation, of a particular learning design for a course, as in the homework associated with the Laurillard model. And they don't mention explicitly other major theories than Laurillard's e.g. Perry, deep and shallow. These are major omissions for the initial set of qus1-3; I may or may not have time to add examples of these other kinds of question.

    Sample questions

    Is the Laurillard model simply a generalisation of dialogic interaction as the heart of learning?

    Answer sketch:
    Well: it is called a "conversational" model, and the underlying principle of iteration and convergence where learners make repeated, corrected attempts to express and re-express things fits the "dialogic" label in contrast to a "monologue" analogy. Stressing the way both learners and teachers have not identical but equally important roles fits the metaphor of dialogue. On the other hand, the model may not be sufficiently dialogic: it fails to describe peer interaction, and in general, to describe the ways many different kinds of people have important effects on our learning. It also does not include the more central role for dialogue that Vygotsky's theory has, where thinking is seen as internalised dialogue, originally with other people (as does Wood's contingent tutoring). On the other hand again, the Laurillard model does stress the distinction between the public and private / experiential aspects of learning: so it captures something the dialogue metaphor does not. So my own argument would be that the dialogue metaphor is important, the Laurillard model is important, and they overlap; but each have some significant features the other does not.

    Is dialogic interaction an adequate theory of the important features of learning and teaching in HE?

    Answer sketch:
    (Obviously this question overlaps with the previous one: you could consider taking bits of the outline answer for one and using them for the other.) In some ways it is appealing to take how a mother interacts with an infant as the prototype for all learning (since so much of what we learn, we learn indirectly or directly from others), and an indication of what a teacher should provide. Wood et al.'s study on contingent tutoring captures many features (with older children) that seem illuminating about what even HE needs somehow to provide, and it does so by being a model of dialogic interaction and close personalised adaptation of teaching interventions to the needs of each learner. However we also learn so much in fundamentally non-dialogic ways. Firstly, we learn so much from books, whose authors do not know us nor interact with us: this is fundamentally monologic, not dialogic. Secondly, we learn a lot from interacting with material objects rather than people (as watching young children immediately shows). This is interaction, but it stretches the notion of dialogue too far because generally material objects do not adapt to us: so it is clear we can learn without dialogue's defining feature. Thirdly, Howe's experiments show that the conceptual gains people make in discussions with others are, when studied in great detail, not dialogic in the normal sense, but instead work by sowing the seeds of doubt that are resolved privately and without communication at some later time.

    Does a learner in HE need a teacher? Do they need other learners to interact with? Discuss.

    Answer sketch:
    There are many points you could make here. A good answer wouldn't necessarily make them all, but would weave an overall story. Here's a pool of points that could be drawn on: Clearly students can learn from books, or from the literature, without a teacher at all. Peers can be better than teachers in some ways: better for getting the learner to think critically about whether or not to believe their conclusions. On the other hand, you can learn without them. So "need" may be too strong, but "benefit from" is probably generally true. Considering the different functions of an HE "teacher" may be a better way to think of it: who decides the syllabus, who delivers it, who designs not the "content" but the learning activities? And indeed, who if anyone performs the function of "teacher monitoring" i.e. noticing whether the learner is working and progressing satisfactorily. In the end it may not be much different from the question of whether you can go on holiday to another country without using a guide book or the internet. Clearly you can, and in some ways it will be fresher and more stimulating; but in others, it will be harder work, and you will miss more.

    Anna Macnaughton asked me a question that caught me on the hop; and which I now think would actually be a good exam question:
    What is the difference, or relationship, between reflection and metacognition?

    Answer sketch:
    A major problem in the literature is that most of it fails to define these terms. But Schon and Kolb at least each say what they mean by reflection: going over events and relating them to ideas. (They differ in details: about whether you should reflect on actions, theories, and/or the connection between the two in your practice.) So the main point here is about improving one's ideas and methods within the topic of study e.g. a nurse reflects on being a nurse, on procedures she carries out, etc.

    Metacognition is meant to be one's own understanding of one's learning/thinking: not one's attempt to improve/debug one's understanding of a theory or professional practice.

    If you haven't, have a look at my web page on Bloom (google "steve draper bloom"), and search (browser's Find command) for "metacognition". This is NOT every author's meaning for "metacognition", but it is one interesting one. It fits with something more recent I read on what real "understanding" in a learner should be: not just facts and not just skills but the ability to demonstrate understanding by using these appropriately, flexibly, and in novel cases.

    Another interesting sense for "metacognition", which is how I used the term in lectures, is about one's awareness of one's learning. Metamemory is the simplest case (knowing that you do or don't know something, even if you can't recall it instantly). Hunt's demonstration that asking people to state how confident they were of an answer led to better learning. This isn't a grand self-consicious ("reflective") learner who introspects about their learning styles and techniques (though it could lead to that), but it is about a learner who checks (reflects) on whether they know or understand something well enough, and if not, goes on to remedy that. So in this sense, I used "metacognition" to refer to a learner reflecting on their learning; being professional as a student, in the way a teacher, nurse, etc. would be use reflection as part of being professional in their job.

    Exam questions from a related predecessor course

    A predecessor course had an overlapping syllabus, and its materials might be of some use. Extensive exam questions and outline answers for it are there, but of course this course has a different syllabus.

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