Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Reading day

One course down, two to go.

Abstract Algebra II is now wrapped up, all grades successfully submitted by noon today. Overall the students did very well, which is hardly a surprise since the class had a number of our best and brightest and most senior students, five of whom are leaving us after commencement in a few weeks.

So far the questions from students in the other two courses (both sets of students are dealing with take-home exams) have come in a steady trickle.

Yup, two take-home exams.

I was a bit reluctant to make the Calc I exam a take-home exam, after the debacle from Fall 2007, but I decided that what I perceive to be the benefits of granting the students a take-home far outweigh the negative aspects, including the risk that one or more students might again decide to cheat.

1. By affording the students time for meaningful reflection on the concepts learned in class, take-home exams offer a further formative learning opportunity rather than simply a summative assessment of a student's ultimate performance.

2. By eliminating the largely artificial "high-pressure, high-stakes" environment of an in-class test, take-home exams are more apt to measure more clearly students' understanding of (or at least ability to recover and synthesize deep ideas involving) the course's subject matter than simply aptitude in test-taking.

3. As hinted in the previous point, take-home exams more closely approximate "real-world" settings in which students will eventually find their skills tested, in which they will generally have access to resources (books, notes, mentors, and, yes, the outlawed-even-on-take-home-exams colleagues!) in order to better to meet the challenges with which they're faced.

We'll see how it turns out. I did give a little bit of a lecture when I distributed the exam sheets a few days ago, an uncharacteristically stern admonition at the outset, hoping to instill in the students the gravity of the trust I'm placing in them.

I've received one student's exam so far, but I've not had a chance to look over it. We'll see.

For now, I'm working away, one day at a time.

Tomorrow: donuts and derivatives, and a meeting about writing assessment. Oh boy!

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