Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Assess this!

After polling my Calc II students briefly at the start of the last two class periods, I realized there was no clear consensus regarding the format of their final evaluation. I had proposed two options: (a) a more "traditional" final exam in which students would solve several more problems involving the techniques we've developed this term, or (b) a "portfolio" of prior work students would put together in order to demonstrate mastery of several different aspects of the class (techniques of integration, applications of integration, communication of mathematics, and a fourth piece of their choice). A successful portfolio would demand that the student justify her inclusion of a particular piece ("piece" being defined loosely as a single problem or an entire homework set, miniproject, quiz, or exam): why does that particular piece demonstrate the mastery being measured?

While a number of students seemed excited about the prospect of a portfolio, several balked, visibly discomfited by the idea of putting a portfolio together. I wonder if some of the less well-organized students would have trouble putting together a portfolio because they've not kept a good record of their work over the semester...? Or perhaps the reluctant students simply want to avoid the "writing" that comes with putting the portfolio in order...? I'm not sure.

As a compromise, I went ahead and made up both, and students can choose which path to take. On the one hand, I made up a four-question "traditional" exam that'll get the students solving several more problems (though one question still asks for a students to come up with their own problem to solve); on the other, I've made a prompt for a four-piece portfolio whose form mirrors the structure of the "traditional" exam. I hope this compromise will satisfy everyone's intellectual curiosities. I'm curious, for one, to see how it works out.


Bret Benesh said...

This is the part of "democracy" that everyone forgets: sometimes majority rule is not the best way to go---sometimes everyone can be happy.

Thanks for thinking about a way to make everyone happy.

Jack Derbyshire said...

I'm very happy with the ability to choose that you've given all of us! I still haven't decided which way to go. The final looks pretty difficult, but I've never had to turn in a portfolio before. Exams are reliable and familiar... portfolios are foreign and frightening. We'll see what happens!

Thanks for being a fantastic professor!


DocTurtle said...

@Jack: I honestly don't mean the final to be that hard. Not a gimme, by any means, but also not crippling. Let me know what you think once you've had a chance to look them both over.