December 14, 2009

My Failure Of Imagination

I accepted an assignment to teach another class in January.  This one will be an undergraduate class, not nearly as much fun as a room full of bright grad students.  This forces me to confront a problem, which is how to evaluate them.

Bitter experience proves that undergraduate students can't write complete sentences, much less term papers.  So if I give them term papers and base their grades on that, they will all get poor grades and I will be miserable while reading them.

More recent experience, made less bitter only by the fact that less work is involved for me, demonstrates that the test bank by the authors of the textbooks are replete with terribly-worded questions, laced with ambiguities and "incorrect" answers that are, IMO, legitimately defensible and generally based on concepts that are more obscure than I would expect them to encounter in the real world.  Really, does an undergraduate student taking a business law class to fill a prerequisite really need to know the difference between quasi-contract and promissory estoppel?

In an undergraduate class, there will be too many students, and they will not be of advanced enough intellectual development, to have them do classroom presentations.  This is simply not a practical option.

I'm expected to turn in grades and to be able to prove to an auditor that I didn't subscribe to the "if-you-pay-you-get-an-A" mentality.  That leaves me with the following options that I can see:
  • Use the existing test bank and tell the students to suck it up.  This will result in at least two of my nine available classes being consumed by student angst over the poorly-written questions.
  • Write my own multiple choice questions.  This is a lot of work for me.
  • Assign term papers, and suck it up while reading about thirty students' extremely poorly-written eight-page screeds.
None of these look like good options for me.  So I cast about for realistic alternatives to objective testing and term papers appropriate for undergraduate students, and I can't think of any.  When I have a failure of imagination, I throw the door open to you, my good Readers, and hope that you will be able to give me a better idea than the bad ones I already have.

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