Class without Exams

Two weeks into a most unusual fall semester, my classes are going surprisingly well. Bending over backwards to connect with students I’ll probably never see in person — all 180 of them — is paying off. They love me.

Doing away with tests may be a factor. Students are great at memorizing things well enough to pass the test, but whether they actually learn anything is an open question. I’ve never liked tests and for my last semester before retirement, wanted to try something different.

Assignments in my class are very applied. Most require students to further explore the concepts discussed in class through structured activities. This semester, I decided to increase the number of assignments from five to ten, but could only come up with seven solid assignments.

In a last minute act of desperation, I added a personal journal to be turned in three times over the course of the semester. Students must write an entry for every lecture (and the accompanying videos). There’s no textbook, so the journal is for information they don’t want to forget. Yeah, I know. Weak, but I couldn’t come up with anything else.

The first submission was due last week. In addition to entries for each of the four lectures, I asked for an introduction, reason for signing up for the class, and the topics on the syllabus they looked forward to or dreaded. My desperate act turned out much better than expected.

Well over half of the 48 students in the class (I have 131 in a different class) said something about not having to worry about tests meaning they could focus on learning instead of memorizing. I suspected as much, but for them to say so was frankly surprising.

The journal entries make very clear who has and hasn’t done the work. A minority think they can skip the videos and lectures and B.S. me by regurgitating something they learned about the topic in a business course. Wrong. This ain’t business school, honey.

I came down hard on them too. No tests doesn’t mean no work. Each one I came across made me madder than the one before. My comments were direct and to the point. “I expect to see evidence you listened to every lecture and watched every video.” I ain’t playing, either.

Most, however, were amazing. They restated the main ideas in their own words and added personal examples, reactions and comments about things they found especially interesting. They put things together MUCH better than students in my test-heavy semesters ever did.

The journal entries also give students a chance to tell me things. I’ve been deeply touched by positive comments they’ve shared. Were we in the classroom together twice a week, I’d expect it. Thirty years of experience makes a difference. Given current circumstances, however, the positive feedback really means a lot to me.

I love teaching. The further we get into this semester, the more certain I am. One way or another, I’m not through teaching. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for stopping by!

2 responses to “Class without Exams”

  1. Glad to hear this semester is going well even without TESTS!

    I still love teaching but I have LOST any credibility locally because we moved. I am frustrated but trying to get back to glass fusing. Glass blowing is the BIG Thing in Cleveland.

    Maybe we call talk by phone someday.


    • We’ll definitely have to do that sometime. I thought about leaving Athens, but in the end decided I was better off here.