Sami Karaman’s opinion piece (“My freak exam schedule”, March 11) gives an honest and unapologetic criticism of the university’s methods of assessing students’ knowledge through participation grading, including the dreaded iClicker and the 10% participation grade. The author’s imagery, including the conniving Office of the Registrar plotting to destroy the fates of each year’s graduates, is undoubtedly entertaining, but these images are problematic. They derive from the author’s subjective opinions, which have several inaccuracies, and I am here to point them out.
Let us talk about assessing class participation.
Predominantly used in first-year courses, the iClicker inevitably gives way to cheating. It is a social norm to help that friend who did not do the scheduled readings in the hope that you can rely on him or her in the future, and so it is not a fair way of assessing each student’s grasp of a specific topic. But maybe the purpose of these gadgets is to encourage class attendance, as high school graduates arrive with the knowledge that skipping classes will not result in phone calls to Mom and Dad. Furthermore, these iClickers do get that desired student participation, as we are forced to think and analyze on the spot and deliver an answer. So while as an assessment tool they are inefficient, they encourage (albeit through force) physical and cognitive participation, and can contribute to information retention, which may help with assignments and exams.
Then there is that 10% participation grade. We all have our individual strengths and weaknesses, and publicly expressing our understanding of the content may not be that strength. What is worse (and I agree here with the piece’s complaint) are the students who do not have that talent either and yet who take pleasure in hearing the sound of their voices. Stating, though, that these “un-shy” students are the ones getting the better grades is false—in one of my tutorials I could not get a word in because of this enthusiastic individual who ultimately received a low participation grade, and I know that because she told everyone: an unfortunate side effect of verbal diarrhea. I myself have suffered mediocre participation grades, thinking that attendance and quantity over quality were the determinants to high marks. I was very wrong, but I learned from my mistakes.
A trending alternative is communication through email. If you are shy, do not hesitate to speak to your professor, as he or she should be completely sympathetic to that request. Participation is not regurgitating, for example, the plot of a novel; it is the ability to take that information, analyze it in accordance to your field’s methodologies, and form opinions on your subject that will only increase your knowledge and aid you in your work.
So now to exam scheduling.
The author of the piece gave a wordy description of each of his exams and his frustration as they occur sequentially within a three-day period. Now listen: I hear you as any student who has come across the week(s) of hell. These conflicting deadlines are not restricted to exam periods and include the consecutive papers and midterms, but once again I highlight thinking in perspective. Yes, you (the author) are forced to start preparing weeks before, and mixing information from different classes is unavoidable, but it is an inescapable reality of being a student, and it could be worse: you could have two exams on the same day. You proclaim the “unfairness” of other students having more time to study, but can you not say that you are many times that student who got lucky? The Office of the Registrar does not “roll the dice” in regards to the scheduling; they have an exam team that takes several weeks to create it. Logically, this team wants to create a schedule with the fewest possible conflicts so that the office employees are not faced with hundreds of angry faces demanding solutions. As stated on the university website, UTM has 12,158 undergraduate students, and just this semester there are over 350 exams, so to demand from this university the ability to attend to the needs of every student in hopes of achieving fairness is unrealistic, and conflicts will happen.
It sucks getting the short end of the stick, but when we enter university we have to take responsibility and create ways to cope with the stress through structuring our schedule and creating study habits that help us when deadlines loom. While a domestic graduating student, like that author, is nervous about decreasing his GPA and losing his hard-earned money, let him consider my international friend, who currently pays per annum $26,000 for 4.5 credits. When she goes into an exam, she knows that if she performs poorly, about $5,800 is lost.
As students, we have the right to complain and feel self-pity, but that wallowing needs to be temporary, as its extension becomes counteractive and threatens our success. Thinking in perspective takes you out of your frame of reference and gets you to consider and analyze your situation in relation to the world around you, which will hopefully lead to action. While demanding from U of T future exam schedules that are fair is unrealistic, maybe the institution can follow in the steps of Harvard University, which eliminated year-end exams a couple of years ago, and opted for smaller tests throughout the semester—a more effective method of knowledge retention, I would say. So take a deep breath, cry a little, and then get to work; summer break is so close you can practically smell it in the air! Well, unless you are taking summer school.
Fourth year, English