Friday, June 20, 2014

OK, this is the last cookie post.

From College Misery, April 16, 2013.

If It's Tuesday, I Must Be Baffled.

I'm teaching a single section of a cross-listed course, one that gets offered in 2 different departments. It's my first rotation with it, so I tracked down a colleague in another department who also teaches it.

"What do you do for the final?" I asked.

"Oh, I stopped giving finals a few years ago. The students hate them. Too much pressure."

I smiled. I just wanted to go home, but I decided to ask anyway. "What do you do instead?"

"Oh, we have a party."

Of course you do, I thought.


  1. In undergrad, I had a class that had a "final party." The professor brought pizza. He recited a poem. He told everyone that they were going to do great things and go to amazing places.

    The class was a complete waste of time, an anti-educational experience that substituted the ability to regurgitate buzzwords for actual learning. I never suspected as much from the course title, which suggested rigorous work in a tough field. Of course, the professor constantly went on about how hard the subject was, and the students, mostly poor first-semester saps who didn't know any better, thought they were doing well in a really hard class.

    The worst part? The pizza wasn't even good.
  2. Hiram, I'm having similar issues with cross-listed courses.

    A particular pattern of behavior has emerged. When I encounter a particularly lame paper or receive an especially pointed "Why are you so mean?" complaint, odds are it comes from the other program which also deals with care and feeding of wombats, but from the less scientific, more sunshine and unicorns perspective.

    Of course, pointing this out only solidifies my (growing) reputation as a mean ol' meanypants.

  3. Better a mean old meanie than a pathetic old softie whose students eat his mediocre pizza and mock him behind his back.
    1. I wonder which of them gets better evaluations. I mean, meanie is my middle name, but I'm getting old, and every day closer to being fired.

  4. Thank you, Hiram, for posting on a Tuesday as you said you would.
    And cross-listed courses.....a special circle of hell where I teach.
    Good luck with it.
  5. I hate to go back to 2007, but here's a post about the same dynamic from RYS. You are not alone, young Hiram!
  6. Our university specifically has a policy stating that there must be some sort of assessment at the final exam.

    That doesn't stop people from just going right on, ignoring the policy.

    1. Our CC has a policy that the class must meet at the appointed final exam time. Also, that the course assessments must include, at a minimum, 2 thingies (papers, tests, quizzes) plus a final.

      So my very popular colleague meets at the appointed time and conducts a popular quiz game based on course vocabulary, along with a potluck party. The "final" points don't affect the grades much if any.

      Mind you, this is not a cross-listed course. It's in the same department. I get to be Professor Meanypants. That's okay. I get the serious students and the offspring of colleagues and deans.

    2. For the record, I use quiz games as reviews, but not as actual tests.

    3. Quiz games? In post-secondary courses? Good grief! The last time I was in a course in which something of that nature occurred was in junior high school.....nearly 45 years ago.

    4. NLAA, it's an intro course at a CC, and the quiz questions are hard. Students prepare like crazy for it and tutor each other because they don't know who will be on their team. So, hey -- they're engaged and learning.

      See yesterday's "Flashback" post from Academic Monkey:

      "They are practicing. They are engaged. Who is the professor who commands students to make total asses of themselves so successfully? . . . . Perhaps it appeals to their ego, or their sense of fun. Maybe the fear of messing up in front of an audience prevents them from phoning it in . . ."

      I just won't use a game as part of their real grade. For that, they have to demonstrate what they know by writing essays and solving problems independently. 

    5. PG:

      I can't imagine that happening in engineering. Had any of my undergrad profs done something like that, they would have been laughed out of the department.

  7. Happiest moment of this academic year for me was when a certain course of mine that was cross-listed became no longer cross-listed (uncrossed?). Prior to that, Education students could take my course. And yes, they wanted pizza and Coke along with no final exams, and to submit shoebox dioramas instead of essays, and to do charades instead of presentations. And OMF, I am so glad they are no longer part of my world. 

    1. PS, Hiram. The way it got 'uncrossed' was for me to be as "mean" as possible so that the other dept. deemed it too difficult for their students. After enough student complaints from that single population, the dept. developed its own class. I believe they're having cake AND ice cream for their final exam.

    2. CC, the Far Side reference is not lost :

    3. Hah--I so love when someone gets a Farside reference. :) It is becoming more and more rare. 

  8. Any class that ends with cake or cookies...please. I just want to know what we've become.
  9. No final exam? This is a joke, isn't it?

    Thinking back at the time I was teaching, maybe it isn't. When I started my job in the late 1980s, some of my exams were closed-book. That slowly changed to open-book or allowed formula sheets, largely, I think, because exams were regarded as too "stressful".

    That wasn't too surprising. At first, my exams were 1:3--that is, if it took me an hour to test-write the exam, the students normally would have required 3. By the time I quit 11 years ago, that had increased to 1:5. By the way, I wasn't the only one who made that observation. My Ph. D. supervisor noticed something similar.

    Considering that how the institution I taught at kept lowering its standards over the years I was there, maybe final exams were abolished some time after I left.
  10. Oh God, I had colleagues for years who skipped the final. Some would prep the students for the final and then SURPRISE them with treats, brownies and such.

    Where in the world they learned this, I do not know. I never had a class party in college, and I would have thought it odd to get one.
    1. When I was an undergrad in the mid-1970s, I doubt that any of my profs would have pulled a stunt like this. The courses finished with either an exam or a final project and a prof giving a party instead would likely have been investigated. Back then, the university's policy was that final exams could be as much as 70% of the course grade, so they were taken seriously by students and faculty.

      I'm baffled as to why some profs would not consider holding a final exam in a course. In my profession, the registration process requires proof of a suitable education. Not holding exams undermines the profession's integrity and, ultimately, its public credibility.

  11. Well, I have a kind of no final exam policy. Along the semester we do quizzes and exams (like 12) that cover all the material. Students who get an average A in these are exempt from the final exam. That a) gives keeners an extra incentive and b) reduces the grading load.
    I might only work for Foreign Languages, thou.
    1. I had one course like that, sort of - your grade for the course was based one EITHER the cumulative points earned on all tests and quizzes during the semester OR on the points earned from the comprehensive final.
  12. I like how Hiram said he'd be back on Tuesday and he is! Wheee.

    No cookies ever, right? Isn't that the rule for proffies with spines and brains, etc?
    1. For what it's worth, Kimmie, I'll be following Hiram's lead (and Darla's) and posting every Sunday for the next couple of months.

      I know someone who teaches comparative anatomy. The students dissect sheep eyeballs and calves' brains. The proffie has a spine and brain (actually, lots of them) but brings in chocolate eyeballs and Jell-o Jiggler brains around Halloween. Is that allowed under the rules?

  13. Here is your final exam,
    I wrote it with glee,
    no cookies for you, darlings,
    now try to earn your C.
  14. A friend of mine in another department says his evaluations improved markedly since he started giving take-home finals in his upper-div courses. "Looking out for number one" is his motto.

    "The final will consist of a selection of problems taken from the three tests, plus one problem on the material covered since then", I tell them. It's true, all they have to do is memorize the solutions. It doesn't help; the good ones get A's, the others bomb it as always.
    1. That assumes that the students won't cheat or collaborate.

      I once had a class that did poorly on a midterm exam and rebelled against me, thanks largely to the efforts one student who had a reputation as a troublemaker. After I met with the students and their spineless department head (who wanted to avoid as much hassle as possible as retirement was pending), I cancelled the results and let them re-write it. I deliberately made it take-home because I knew what was going to happen if I didn't. Sure enough, the answers were almost all identical and the lowest exam result was around 90%.

      I guess I underestimated just how smart they were, didn't I?

    2. Well, unlike my friend, I don't give take-home finals, for exactly this reason; who knows who will actually work on the problems?

      I have given take-home midterms. But then the questions end up being like, hmmm, err, ahem, little-itty-bitty, hmm, research teapartying problems. So whoever is solving them really has to know the stuff. That turned out to be not so popular (???!!!), so I don't do it anymore.

    3. Peter:

      You didn't make them "fun". Good heavens, what do they expect nowadays?
  15. I gave a number of open book tests due to scheduling issues beyond mine or the institution's control one semester in an effort to maximize class discussion of material. This had been an extraordinary situation.

    The final, however, while open book, had to be done in the classroom. By contract, we all had to be present at the institution for that date.

    One student clearly collaborated. His take home quizzes were excellent, but his open book final was barely passing. I don't think he opened the textbook until that final day in class!
  16. Finals are required where I work. I try to make my tests doable and credibly challenging at the same time, and I always give plenty of encouragement to study. Just study, I say, even for an hour, and you'll load the dice in your favor. Focus on these particular things, I plead, and you'll be fine. I feel mightily put on the spot, then, when the day of reckoning comes and it's so glaringly obvious that only a few have bothered to study at all. And it's getting worse every semester.

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