Alexi Stocker, History and Economics major, class of 2016
As a member of the Searle Undergraduate Learning and Teaching Committee this past academic year, I set out to identify the best methods of student assessment (e.g., tests, quizzes, homework, etc.) in large courses (meaning courses of 60 or more students). For the project, I spoke with seven faculty members – five from Weinberg, one from the School of Communication, and one from McCormick – about how they design assessments in the large courses they teach. From my interviews, I drew several insights that I believe all undergraduates can use to improve their experiences in large courses, especially in regards to assessment.
First of all, almost all faculty members are glad to meet with undergraduates and discuss what the purpose of their assessments is. This means two things; first, you (the student) can determine what kind of an exam, problem set, or paper you should prepare for. Some assessments are “punitive,” meaning that they’re designed purely to determine who has, or has not, done the reading, the homework, or gone to discussion section. Some are designed to help you learn and develop your own understanding of the material. Even if instructors don’t say it in class, they’ll tell you what the purpose of their assessments is if you just take the time to visit them during office hours. Understanding the purpose of assessments in your large courses will help you study. Memorizing facts isn’t going to help you prepare for a comprehension test in a history course, but it’s probably going to help you on a biology quiz. Learning the purpose of your assessments helps you determine how to study.
Second, all students really should do homework. Faculty members don’t give out homework, especially something that’s going to be graded, if they don’t think that it’s going to help you learn in some way. Even if you can get away with copying answers from your friend, that doesn’t mean that you should. Homework, practice problems, readings, and all other assignments that might not be worth a whole lot of points, or may not be worth anything at all, are assigned for your benefit. Remember, the same professors and lecturers who are assigning you these practice problems and readings are also writing your exams, your labs, and your paper topics.
The most important insight I gained from this project was this: Ask your professors and lecturers questions. This doesn’t mean asking questions about the material (although you should, if you’re confused), it means asking questions about the assignments you’ve been given. Many faculty members are more than happy to answer these questions; students just don’t often ask.
Back to Undergraduate Voices