OMG. A professor who gets it
on multiple levels. Sir, can you spread the word? And where were you when I
was scribbling in those bluebooks? Don't answer that. I see from your C.V. that you weren't yet in kindergarten. Michael Bérubé writes:
I stopped giving in-class final exams a few years ago. It was a light-bulb moment, brought on by a student who needed a disability accommodation—in that case, someone with mild cerebral palsy. I immediately recalled being asked for an accommodation a few years earlier, by a student who said not “I have arthritis” but rather “I need some extra time because of the arthritis that is in my hands,” which seemed a poignant way for a 20-year-old to speak of the strangeness of having arthritis at 20. But this time, rather than simply offering an accommodation to one student (and it was reasonable accommodation, thus required by the Americans with Disabilities Act—just a note to all you professors out there who think that Federal law stops at your classroom door), I asked myself why I was offering in-class final exams in the first place.
Every semester for 15 years, I had been asking students to identify and/or comment on passages from our readings, and then to write a couple of longer essays on various aspects of those readings, and for some reason the essays were (with notably rare exceptions) pretty bad. Why was that? Perhaps, I thought, asking sleep-deprived students to scribble madly in bluebooks for two or three hours wasn’t a good way to get them to say something interesting and coherent about literature.
So in response to my student with CP, I decided to distribute a take-home exam on the final day of class, and then give students 72 or 96 hours to write two essays. That way, the exam itself would be turned in (and graded) during finals week, and students could devote as much (or as little) time to the exam as they desired. I’ve done this ever since.
Fun surprising fact: even when you give some people three or four days to complete an essay exam, they still respond by scribbling madly—or, more accurately, typing madly—for two or three hours. Who could have known? But the even more fun fact is that those students’ exams are readily identifiable as half-assed efforts, whereas the people who put serious thought into their essays stand out all the more clearly. (For example, they dig diligently for textual evidence—something they can’t readily do in the in-class format.) And for extra added upside, I no longer have to decipher students’ crazed, finals-week handwriting. Lastly, for even more extra extra upside, the students who need accommodations—the one with cerebral palsy; the more recent one with carpal tunnel syndrome; and the two with mild dyslexia—get to work at their own pace, like everybody else. It’s like universal design … for final exams.
Blast from the Past: At Daily Kos on this date in 2009:
So my old boss, Maria Cantwell, is joining forces with John McCain on legislation that would reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act which required banks to choose between operating as a commercial bank or as an investment bank before it was repealed in the late 90s.
Jason Linkins was following the news about the Cantwell-McCain effort and noticed that some random Treasury official was trying to push back on it. Linkins' counter-pushback was priceless:
The most cutting remark against McCain and Cantwell's efforts comes courtesy of Unnamed Treasury Official, who, as you might imagine, is some kind of awesome prick:
I think going back to Glass-Steagall would be like going back to the Walkman.
But hey, you'd go back to your Walkman too, if every time you put your iPod on shuffle, it blew up the goddamned planet.
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