Thursday, May 10, 2007

Testing, testing. . .

It happens every semester--I construct a final exam that is absolutely drop-dead perfection, that I expect students will be as thrilled to take it as I am to construct it. But, no. They always complain!

Today, I gave the final exam for my English 102 course. The semester that began with such promise has now ended. One by one, as the students finished writing the exam, they brought their papers to the front, and mumbled--that was hard.

Well, I think smugly, if you had paid attention in class. . .

I have had to take drastic measures recently. Sadly, cheating continues to be a problem. A recent news story demonstrates that even the best of universities is not immune. My drastic measures are two-fold: 1) I assign seats. Basically, I arrange the students alphabetically. There is no magic to this approach; it is just a simple remedy so that students can't count on sitting next to someone they think might have easily seen answers. 2) I tell the students at the beginning of the exam no touching their cell phones. In fact, if they do, the exam is forfeited. Why so drastic? Some schools discovered students using the text messaging capabilities of cell phones to get answers. Students were so adept at texting that they did not even have to look at the cell phone to enter their message. So, my cell phone ban is a pre-emptive strike.

For many students, there is that awful moment of truth when they open the exam and see this.

EXCEPT. . .there are no labels on the triangle. And the question is--here is a diagram of the rhetorical triangle. Use a single word to name each of the three points, then define that word.

Out of my class of 23, I had only 3 students get this question correct. I have a feeling that for some students that question is the moment of truth--uh-oh. I knew I should have studied more. Or I knew I should have taken notes in class. Or I knew I should have attended the lectures. WHATEVER.

I have been teaching at my community college now for 5 years, spring and fall semesters. So that is 10 semesters of observation. My prior teaching at a 4 year liberal arts college (back in the 1970s) was very different.

I observe that community college students have little time to bond as students. They do not live on campus, leaving each day to go back to their homes, their families, their jobs. They all carry too much--many of them work at least part-time, some full-time. Many of them take full course loads. The result is their interest in learning is subjugated to their need to finish the course and get the grade. I had one student this semester who began sending me emails toward the end of the semester asking--what is my grade. I responded that she had the syllabus which gave the values for the work, and she knew what she had earned thus far. Finally, I told her--just study REALLY well for the exam! In some ways, I feel sorry for these kids because they are missing out on what makes education wonderful--the joy of discovery. The Aha! moments of college.

The other major observation I have is that each semester differs. This semester's class began at 12:30 p.m.--not bad. Mostly, everyone was awake. I have had 8 a.m. classes that are awful, or late afternoon classes where students are restless. This semester's class was also dominated by women--only 5 men in the class. Then one dropped out just before the end of the semester. That is the other marked difference between my community college teaching experience and my liberal arts teaching experience. Students at the community college have no qualms about dropping courses. They drop them early, or late. Sometimes they fill out the drop form, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they just quit coming. Then, when I drop them, I get irate phone calls--why did you drop me? I went to sign up for tennis (!) and learned I can't take it because I don't have 12 credits since you dropped me. I feel like saying--DUH--you have time for tennis but not to attend my class?

Oops--I am getting testy. Well, once the final exams are graded, I will enter the scores on my nifty Excel spreadsheet that will zip the calculations through in no time. Then, I will relax for the summer, and get ready for the fall--actually for mid-August, when classes start up again.


Mary said...

Donna, you have a right to be testy. I see the same thing at my CC - the students run in and run out of class and withdraw and drop courses in a heartbeat. No spirit - no comraderie. They complain and whine when they fail in attendance, for goodness sakes! Drop them - fail them - withdraw them. Don't look back.

Cheating will always be an issue. I'd crack their knuckles.

Oooops. I'm being too testy. I don't even teach.

Anonymous said...

I can see both sides of this as I was a student at a Community College - I was older than the kids there. All went well. I kept getting all the test answers correct in one class (psychology) and the teacher hotly announced that he would sit behind me in all future tests. He though I was cheating but I had just worked really hard. I was not popular as my score raised the average. I never got to to finish college.

Anvilcloud said...

Not a morning person, when I was teaching I really liked it when my spare fell in the first period. Eight o'clock classes with me and 18 year-olds was not exactly a chipper affair.

KGMom said...

Mary--I knew you would understand my rant since you are also at a CC.

Ocean--some of my fav students are the "older" non-traditionals. They study harder, bring more life experience to class, and usually do raise the test scores. Your prof sounds nasty--I never ASSUME a student must be cheating. Sorry you didn't get to finish--you show super smarts with your camera work & your blogging!

AC--I am also not a morning person. The one semester I had a 8 a.m. class, I accepted it because as an adjunct I can't pick & choose class times. But it was a struggle to drag myself out of bed in the morning. At least I stayed awake--students didn't always!

Liza Lee Miller said...


I taught at a CC years ago and I loved it -- but I was teaching classes that were about how to use the Internet (back in the late 90's). People took my classes because they WANTED to and they were generally motivated to learn. I always felt silly giving them tests but they were for academic units and I had to make them count. Still never had complaints. Some of my tests were open Internet tests -- one of the big lessons was how to search for information on the Internet so I figured if they could FIND the answers on the Internet, then they deserved credit for that lesson! :)

Totally different experience than teaching an academic course at a CC, I'm sure.

I went to an urban university and my experience was very different from a typical college one. MOst of the the students were older, paying their own way, and they were working hard to "better" themselves. It was frustrating as someone who wanted to be living it up and doing the minimum but I also feel that the work ethic I had to learn there has served me well.

Okay, done with the rambling now.

beth said...

Donna - I am starting to toss around the idea of begining work towards a master's degree in the next year or so. Your comments inspire me, believe it or not. I know what kind of student I want to be.

I never cheated. Ever.

I'm just saying...

Cathy said...

My neighbor teaches at a CC and regales us with similar stories of slip-shod attendance and bad attitudes. Like you, though - he enjoys the occasional student that wants to learn and excel.

Seems you've got a well deserved rest approaching. And you've all those happy little plants waiting for your undivided attention :0)