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In my graduate programming languages course, each student is required to learn a different novel programming language during the course of the semester and give a presentation on it to the class at the end of the semester.

Learning a new programming language is hard, and, inevitably, some students present inaccurate information, sometimes in response to a question from another student or me.

In my private feedback to each student, I let them know any mistakes I saw in their presentation. My question is whether I should let the class know when some presented information is incorrect.

As an example, a student showed some code in a language related to Java. When asked by a student whether the break statement in a doubly-nested loop exited both loops, she said yes, which was incorrect. I kept quiet, not wanting to embarrass the presenter, but I wonder if I should have said, "Actually, like in Java, break only escapes from the innermost loop.

Do you think it is better to correct mistakes when they occur or to let them slide? I wouldn't correct an English mistake by a student. Should I correct a CS mistake?

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    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't correct mid presentation. But it might be worth touching on a few things after they're done. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Nutt May 9 '18 at 19:09
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Mistakes should be corrected, but the how can be finessed. You are already correct in giving the private feedback to each student, but you can add an additional level to the game.

Instead of you correcting the student in the live session or later, part of each student's total work product is to produce a report on their own that is distributed to the class soon after the presentation. Much of this can be prepared prior to the presentation and only updated after your private feedback. In it, you can require that the student correct any known defects in the presentation explicitly. They can admit to having made a mistake and provide the correct information without any confession of guilt or error. The info was wrong - here is the real skinny.

There are a lot of reasons for misstatements in a public presentation. You and I make them as well, and we correct them as we can. With students (and new teachers) some of this is actually just a result of stress. So the correction shouldn't increase the stress or give the student any reason to feel bad about themselves. The correction comes from them, even though it was information from you, perhaps, that set them straight.

To simply let it go, misleads the other students of course, so that is a poor solution. But lowering self esteem is also a poor solution. Make the experience a positive one, even though the student is cleaning up her/his own mess.

The written report has an additional benefit, of course, as students need to practice technical writing in any case.

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    $\begingroup$ I hadn't considered having students send an update. What's nice is that they wouldn't have to say if I pointed out the mistake or if they discovered it through subsequent research. $\endgroup$ – Ellen Spertus May 9 '18 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ @EllenSpertus, yes. Exactly my point. They learned, they passed on the learning. Copacetic. In fact they might learn something even if they didn't err and might want to add it to the written report. The questions they get might induce changes. $\endgroup$ – Buffy May 9 '18 at 19:19
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I agree with @Buffy's point entirely: "Mistakes should be corrected, but the how can be finessed."

If I can be so vain as to quote myself, I said the following in an earlier question about teachers making mistakes in front of the class: "The classroom should be a safe place to fail, to make mistakes, because of the role said failure can play in the learning process. It's fine to make a mistake; it's not fine to be okay with it."

If time allows, you can meet with the group(s) presenting who may need correction following the class. During this debrief, you can point out any facts that need correcting. Then, give them the opportunity to show to their peers what they have learned by giving a short (<5 minute) follow-up from last class's presentation during the ensuing class meeting.

This empowers the student to do the learning and the re-teaching, much as you (or any teacher) would do in a similar circumstance. This method would both correct the error in private and allow for a "redemption" of sorts in public.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good idea. Unfortunately, there isn't usually time for follow-up presentations, but email works. $\endgroup$ – Ellen Spertus May 11 '18 at 17:24

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