Sunday, January 30, 2011

response to Emily: testing

Should schools get rid of traditional testing, have fewer tests, or stay the way they are?

In high school, I remember feeling like I was running this race of pre-tests and essay prompts until I reached the MCAS. Being privately schooled previously, I had never taken the MCAS before. Combined with the fact that I was an overly conscientious student petrified of not getting into college, I was pretty nervous about them. Then, sophomore year, a whole two years before graduation, I aced this fateful test that was supposed to decide if I graduated or not. In this way, the MCAS are definitely flawed. I do appreciate the free tuition that came with acing it, however.

Also in high school, I definitely "learned for the test". I think a lot of students cram for the test, then forget everything after. High School has such an emphasis on testing, which allows for cramming to be usually all that is necessary.

In college, I've experienced that balancing the test worth to the overall grade is important. Having essays, projects, discussions, and participation weigh as heavily as the test allows more opportunity for everyone to do well. If you're not a test taker, you can work extra hard on the essays and projects, and so on.

I think that too much emphasis is put on fact based tests in high school to ensure that the student is reaching state-mandated education goals. Perhaps students should also have to write more essays that require critical thinking instead of always being given objective tests? That would solve two issues we've been discussing.

Response to Mike: online summaries and education

I think that SparkNotes and Cliff’s Notes are useful as a supplement to reading the material. In my experience with using them in my own education, they reinforce important ideas and themes that can sometimes be missed, despite how closely you read a text. In particular, Sparknote’s No Fear Shakespeare actually helped me understand and become a fan of Shakespeare, no matter how much that may upset Shakespeare purists.

In regards to “lazy” students using them, I think they can only be misused on fact-based exams on the text. Sparknotes gives you enough information to understand setting, plot, main characters, etc, which is all of the basics that would be on a objective text. However, usually literature tests are essay-based. Often, just reading the Sparknotes is apparent in the student’s writing. I’m not ashamed to admit that I ran into a time crunch in my advanced Lit class in high school and only read the Sparknotes, and was called out by the teacher for only knowing the “surface” of the novel.

If Sparknotes is combined with a thorough, critical reading of the text, I believe that they can enhance the understanding of the novel, and make it easier to dissect and fully understand. Besides, at least the student is actually reading rather than watching a horrible film adaptation (ex. Demi Moore in The Scarlet Letter).

Has anyone else used these improperly and not receive a good grade? Or am I off, and it's possible to do well by only reading the summaries?

critical thinking and class sizes

"There is less personal attention in the classroom, fewer tenure-track positions, and more classes are being taught by teaching assistants and in some cases undergraduate students," said McCluskey, a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "Obviously, that has an impact on our learning and the experience we get in college."

After reading the article in the Huffington Post, I think it is evident that class size is in a direct relationship with critical thinking utilization in higher education. All of our classes here at MCLA utilize class discussions, whether in class or on blackboard vista. These discussions, and the impact of participation on the student’s grade, make critical thinking a necessity to partake in such discussions.
Being one in a sea of hundreds of students in a class makes it possible to just show up and not critically think about anything that is being conveyed. In those types of classes, a student probably only has to learn for the test, which very well could be online and therefore, probably open book. It seems that student’s are paying a lot more than a MCLA student to essentially go through the motions.
Although a student in a large college should be conscientious of their own studies, chances are they probably won’t be, and since they’re not being encouraged to go above and beyond to learn, they won’t.
After watching the State of the Union, President Obama stressed education as crucial to the US remaining a strong force ahead of the game. Having students that are going to college, but not actually critically becoming better at anything, is not progress. Although large universities are necessary due to the large numbers of students seeking higher education, I think institutions should work to make class sizes reasonable. Students should be seen as more than money, and the students should ensure that they are being treated than more than a tuition payment. Also, those professors of the large classes should be focusing on instilling as much information as possible to the students, not just throwing it out there to get it done.
Despite what large universities can offer, I think small colleges and universities are still the better choice to ensure critical learning is achieved. Large classes just create logistical problems that make it tough to demand quality thought and reasoning.

Has it come to the point where an education at a smaller institution is necessary for quality education?