Saturday, October 28, 2006


That Morthos Stare writes:

Most keen observers will have noticed that Jack and I have wildly different philosophies on how we should treat students. I imagine that Jack is the matronly Aunt Fanny whilst I am the rakish Uncle Quentin (and boy, am I getting sick and tired of being kidnapped by those pesky foreign nationals). Which is probably neither here nor there, but it's all come to a head today.

For today I am marking exam scripts.

I am not a kind marker; if I'm vacillating between giving a script a B+ or an A- I go for the lower grade. If I'm vacillating then obviously the answer wasn't good enough to get that higher grade. I do think I am a fair marker and I know I'm a consistent one; if one type of answer gets a 17 from me then anything highly similar will also get a 17. In my first semester of marking I quickly developed the ability to not note whose script I am marking because, despite my non-caring exterior, I know an awful lot about the academic and personal situations of my students. These things can sway you, so it's best not to take them into account; if a student's circumstances should be taken into consideration when you're marking then the appropriate channels must be gone through (and believe me, asking someone for proof of a death in the family in re an aegrotat is not fun).

I've always thought that the worse aspect of teaching is the assessment system. Essay's are a bad form of assessment as they don't test recall and exams/tests are a bad form of assessment because they only test short term recall. Open book tests seem to rest upon the abiliy of a student to use an index and take-home assignments often test the ability of a student to form social groups where one student can copy another. Many of these skills are useful but they don't tend to reveal to the teacher that anything that they have taught the student has really sunk in. Frankly, I suspect that the only form of assessment I would be happy with would be ringing up a former student out of the blue and asking them random questions.

"So, Jerome, good to hear that your Mother is doing well. Which reminds me, what is the distinction between a lawlike statement and a law of nature again?"

Still, all this being said, I like exam marking. It's relatively quick (the answers are succinct), you tend to see whether the student can string together a coherent argument and you don't have to write all that many comments in the script (unlike, say, essays, in which I can write speils longer than the work I am marking).

Exams are, I suppose, as close as I can get to my preferred assessment system. The students don't know what the questions are before they enter the examination room and they have mere minutes to contemplate and answer them. Okay, they've probably memorised whatever notes they took, but a good exam question requires them to link two separate ideas into one glorious whole. When I read the answer of a student who has got it the mark it will receive is obvious, and that is a good feeling.

Still, I'd prefer to be able to entrap students.

"Hey, Luce, didn't expect to find you working here. Before you remove any more pieces of clothing, riddle me this: is Mackie's notion of the INUS condition a more or less sophisticated version of Lewis on Causation? Oh, and I've got to say I'm liking those breasts."


Rich said...

How useful a "real world" skill is recall?

Obviously one has to retain and understand overall concepts, but is being able to recall detail useful, especially now that there is so much information available online?

If you don't understand calculus, or the reasons for the second world war, I'd doubt that having a whole library of books by the desk would help.

Maybe this only works at a high level - and it certainly relies on orginal questions. I guess an "open book" exam falls down if the book is "How to pass NCEA Stage I English" or whatever.

The Hand of Morthos said...

I suppose I should qualify recall; for a philosopher 'recall' means being able to remember and use the core concepts of the discipline, thus knowing the epistemological/ontological distinctions, et al. (Which was the point of my two examples) Anyone can learn, for short periods of time, Holinshead's Annals of the Kings, and given a week to write an assignment you could quote it extensively and still not remember whether Alfreg the Great was the first of second High King a week later.

As to how useful the internet is... Well, there might be a lot of general information online (much of it wildly inaccurate anyway) but for specialist subjects there is remarkably little and what there is there is usually fairly dire (Wikipedia's articles on Logic, for example, are usually wrong or overly-simplistic). The internet isn't a particularly good reference tool at the moment, in part because fine grain searches are non-trivial and also because the background noise of non-accreditated sites and sources often overwhelms what good content there is (although for some things it is ideal; I couldn't do a research project on Conspiracy Theories easily without the 'net).