The end of an academic term makes students and faculty alike crazy with stress. While a little stress tends to motivate us, too much makes us shut down. Does learning actually take place this time of the year? I’d say less than you might think. Rather, students are pretending to learn and we’re pretending to grade. I really think that we’re wasting this opportunity for learning and meaning making. Part of the problem is that too many projects/papers/exams come due at the same time.
This isn’t the way I work. Yes, I get motivated as deadlines approach, but as a professional I don’t end up faking it. Worst case scenario, I miss the deadline but finish the project well.
How might we make this work in terms of a university semester? One way would be for me to unilaterally schedule my deadlines at times other than the end of the semester. What about the final exam? While I’m a believer in the value of a final tally of what is learned, especially in my discipline where learning tends to occur non-linearly, more and more I’m coming to believe that a final examination may not be the best way to go for some courses. Introductory or intermediate theory courses might need a final exam, but first year or senior seminars, no. Instead, I’m moving towards reflective assessments. In my international finance seminar this past semester, the last three weeks were devoted to student presentations, in the last week a blog portfolio was due, and in lieu of the final exam, a shortish paper was assigned asking what students learned from the presentations. This seemed to take some of the pressure off early and turned the end of the semester into more of a reflective time than a test of facts. I’d be curious to know what my students thought of this.