Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Exams as educational tools

While researching something unrelated, I stumbled across an article by Howard E. Aldrich entitled, "How to Hand Exams Back to Your Class" (College Teaching 49 [2001]: 82). Aldrich's method has several parts:

  1. An answer key with "best answers" given to the students
  2. Students meet in preassigned groups to compare their answers. Those with correct answers take on a teaching role, explaining why theirs is a better response. 
  3. At the start of the next class, Aldrich administers a 5-question multiple-choice quiz covering the questions most frequently missed. 
  4. A cumulative final exam.

Instead of glancing at the grade and stuffing the test into their folders, Aldrich's students use the test as a learning tool. It becomes necessary to review one's progress in order to improve at the next stage.

My literature courses aren't heavily test-based. I give 2 or 3 exams, including the final. What are your thoughts on cumulative finals in literature courses?  Would they encourage students to build on their previous progress? Or would they overwhelm them?
Image source

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Thanks, Peyton!

Previously, I've commented on the problems caused by the physical learning space. This summer, I am overjoyed with my classroom. It's the most perfect environment I've ever had. The desks are independent and movable. The other classrooms nearby aren't noisy. We have a view of the river. The room has white boards and is stocked with markers. It's a SMART classroom, with a projector and sympodium. It also has . . . (drumroll) a working PC and an opaque projector! And I owe it all to Peyton Manning:
Sign outside my classroom in the Communications Building
And of course the nice folks at the Registrar who scheduled me there.

Having a PC in the room has made me very willing to include media that I ordinarily wouldn't have bothered with. In yesterday's class, I had planned for the students to put Tess Durbeyfield on trial. While they were working, I loaded a Pandora station to play music so they would be more comfortable talking. The speakers in the room were excellent. Later in the class, I played a clip from the 2008 BBC adaptation, available on YouTube. I decided to show it at the last minute; I would not have brought my own computer for these minor uses. There are also many days that I would (and initially did) bring my own laptop to hook up to class. I frequently give PowerPoint presentations about the historical context of our readings. It's wonderful to have a class where this is easy to do. Thanks, Peyton!