Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Leaving, on a jet plane"

The final exam for the course I tutor has been cancelled.

This is because the draft exam timetable came out yesterday and our exam got scheduled for the final day of the exam period. And oops, ScaryLecturer has already bought tickets to Puerto Rico.

Oh, the irony. Every lecture for the last six weeks, ScaryLecturer has added a little tirade about how the exam timetable has not yet been set. Your exam could be at ANY time in the exam period. Do not buy tickets to go ANYWHERE before we know the exam date for certain.

I am waiting with bated breath to hear how he's going to explain this one to the students.

And it really does kind of suck for everyone except, well, him. His initial Plan B was to give them an oral exam instead, pass or fail, which he could schedule for earlier than the official written exam period. I talked him out of that one, thank god, on the grounds that there are students who hate and fear oral exams so much they would never have taken this course if an oral exam had been part of the syllabus and it's not fair to change that now.

Plan C was to skip the exam entirely and reweight all the in-class assessment. I talked him out of that too, since there are students who asked me in the week before the final drop-out date for the course if they still had any chance of passing, and I calculated what marks they need to still pass on the assumption that the weightings are as stated in the syllabus. In other words, there are students who have stayed in the course in the belief that they can still pass, who, with the new weightings, would have no chance whatsoever.

Plan D is currently to give the students a take-home exam instead. Which most of them will no doubt prefer, but I still think it is a little unfair, since there will be students who cheat and collaborate, and the whole point of an exam exam is to weed these out. Plus it will be set for a 24-hour-period during exam-week, and whichever day we pick, some students will have exams, and hence less time to spend on the assignment than those who don't.

ScaryLecturer asked me if I could possibly think of any other way around the problem. I think he was half-hoping I might offer to administer the exam. But I'd have to mark it too, since he'd be gone, and I know for sure the department has no budget to pay me for that, and I'm sure as hell not doing it out of the goodness of my heart. So instead my suggestion was that he might want to think about delaying his trip. But no, that would be impossible.

Unlike, for instance, changing the assessment for a course more than halfway through the semester.

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Lucy said...

could you extort high payment for marking the exams out of him personally?

StyleyGeek said...

I doubt it. I wasn't able to extort payment for the lecture I'm giving this week, either, even though it is department policy to pay students required to lecture. But he didn't clear the guest-lecturing with the budget people early enough, so there was no money. And I'm a big enough sucker that I decided the experience was good and it would be useful for getting a job later, so I agreed to do it for free.

Plus, even if I did get paid, I just plain don't want to do it. Marking exams is no fun at all (and paid at a low rate by this uni, compared to the fun bits, like teaching).

shrinkykitten said...

Is it out of the question for him to create a multiple choice exam that is graded by a scantron machine?

Seems like he should trade finals with another prof.

Katie said...

Yeah, I will be curious as well how he will explain this one to the students. Keep us posted!

StyleyGeek said...

Was the multiple choice thing a joke, shrinky? I can't tell.

Trading finals would be a good idea, though, except that his is the only class that size (120 students, because it's the compulsory intro course for anyone wanting to do any linguistics); everyone else's is 30 students, max. Of course, he could trade finals with EVERYONE else -- that might work :)

shrinkykitten said...

Uh, no - why would it be a joke? That's how everyone does finals here for large classes (even small ones). Why a joke?

StyleyGeek said...

Sorry, Shrinky. It's just that I'd never heard of a university course that had an exam with only multiple choice questions before. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Or maybe some courses use them here but only in areas where I haven't ever taken classes myself (the physical sciences, maybe?).

I don't think it would work for this course, though, even if ScaryLecturer were to seriously consider it. Most of what we get them to do is problem-solving. E.g. we give them some sentences from a language they don't know (or a made-up language) with English translations, and they have to construct a dictionary, a grammar, phonological rules and tell us something about the history of the language.

I guess we could give them multiple choice possibilities for things like what words would be in the dictionary, what grammatical rules might apply, what tree diagram correctly analyses each sentence, etc, but the main thing we are concerned with (and the thing the smartish but not the top students fall down on) is how well they can justify their decisions based on the evidence -- i.e. if they are just guessing, or whether they have picked up on the clues they should have done.

enn said...

Why can't he simply have the exam proctored and mark it when he gets back? Why is his physical presence required?

shrinkykitten said...

enn-- likely because he would be back after the date grades are due.

Styley: that's interesting - the cultural aspect of it, that is. I loathe multiple choice exams, and was gleeful every time a prof chose essay exams instead (which at undergrad was about 50/50). But at current school, I don't know of a single undergrad class that uses non-multiple choice.

StyleyGeek said...

enn -- shrinkykitten is right. The grades are due two weeks after the exam, and he'll be away for three.

Lucy said...

All my first year bio classes had a single multiple choice exam as the only assessment, but they had 1200 students total, so it would've been a bit hard any other way. Another class had a true/false exam.

StyleyGeek said...

I've never taken any classes that large, so maybe that's the factor, not the USA/downunder thing. My biggest first year course I took was English literature, and there were about 300 students. There wasn't any exam for that at all, just three essays.

The biggest class I was ever in that DID have exams probably only had around 100 students, so it was still do-able as a short-answers/problem solving thing, rather than multi-choice.