Friday, December 7, 2012

Dr. Amelia ponders some imponderables while watching her students take their final.

Are these questions
for the final, too?
This is it, Beginning Basketweavers. I've actually grown quite fond of many of you, but now is the time for you to prove what you know. I am wondering, however, if you know some of the big picture things.

Do you know that I graded your last papers a little more kindly so that when I returned higher grades, you'd evaluate me better on the "paramount and frightening" end-of-course evaluations?

Do you know that the final you are taking is a little tougher as a result, because I also get in trouble if grades are too high?

Do you know that when you have a conversation with me where you explain how your other classes aren't engaging enough or that you only want to hear another professor's opinion on a subject if you already agree with it, it does not improve my opinion of you?

Do you know that if you start or contribute to a funny picture photo meme about a colleague of mine that basically reads like "Whine, whine. Proffie didn't love me and it's not fair!" that no one will want you to work for them?

Do you know?

Do you know anyone can see the things you post on the Interwebz?

Do you know that adequate sleep is correlated with the ability to retain information, even in the short term?

Do you know that even if you rocked the house on the basic baskets, all that means is that you mastered a few basic techniques that will be the starting point for the much more complicated things to come? Can't you look at a professional basket and figure that out?


  1. I once had a group of students complain about their final exam being too hard. I taught that course for several years and I generally selected the questions from my older exams. Those same older exams were put on reserve in the library and I encouraged the students to borrow them and make copies if they wished. The only thing was that I didn't provide the solutions.

    That final exam was open book but I didn't prevent them from bringing in other related material. Did any of that help? Nope. Apparently nobody even bothered to look at those old exams. The result was that it was the one and only time while I taught that course that the class average for the final exam was less than 50%.

    One can lead a horse to water....

    1. Last year I gave students a list of all possible short response questions (and essay questions) for the final exam for one survey course I teach. They had *four whole weeks* between the class day I gave them the list and the final exam itself (It was 50 possible questions - 12 of which were on the final). I also held extended offices during the study and exam period. The average (for a class of about 70) was 53/100 for the short response section. I started to worry until I saw that this was a bi-modal distribution: half the class was centered around 70 and the other half around 30..) The students around 70 came to class, paid attention, participated, handed-in work on time and many of them came to office hours. The students around 30 didn't.

    2. How many of you actually show grade distributions to students for assignments?

      When the reasons behind a bimodal distribution were explained to me (i.e., it happens when you simply know stuff or you don't with no room for partial credit) when I was a student, something about the basic factors that contribute to success really clicked.

      And later on, when I showed a bunch of my lit students the bimodal distribution of their midterm grades--on a midterm heavy on the identification of authors, speakers, and texts instead of just a couple of brain-dump essays--and said, "This is what happens when you can only be right or wrong," the light went on for a lot of them.

  2. Dr. Amelia, This is such a poetic look at your thoughts while watching the little dumplings write out their exams.

    Remember the days when you'd watch them writing, and actually have hope?