Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Haves and the Have Nots of Common Sense

As a general rule of thumb, students are to be evaluated using portfolio assessment, wherein the final grade is determined by more more than a single performance so as to get a better measure of student performance, as well as to avoid "bad luck" singularities. The most common forms of portfolio assessment are either a midterm or mandatory hand-in assignments (typically pass/fail) in addition to a final exam.

If you were in charge of implementing a change in the way the portfolio assessments are being used, would you: a) Announce the changes in time for the new regime to be defined in the study catalogue, which is the binding document outlining what form the course will have. b) Announce the changes the semester prior to changes taking effect, thus enabling the subject teachers to make the changes necessary to make the (mandatory) portfolio assessment work. c) Announce the changes in mid-semester, just before the midterms, with a three working-day time limit to implement the necessary changes.

If you answered c) - congratulations. You just might possess the tridefecta of lack of common sense, inability to understand the linearity of time, and a sociopathic streak which would qualify you for a position in central university administration.

I just received an email the effects of which is that I need to convert from giving midterms to assigning mandatory problem sets. The midterm is Thursday. In order to comply with rules and regulations, these changes should have been announced (i) in the study catalogue and (ii) at the first day of class if any extraordinary events occurred which warrant changes to the course description. While my course does indeed use problem sets, they're not presently mandatory in that students don't have to hand them in and have them graded. Of course; if they want to actually pass the course, solving and understanding the problem sets is mandatory, but that's another can of worms. Being that this is March, we've already gone through three problem sets, and we've also gone through the solutions. As an added bonus, I don't have a TA in this course, owing to administration missing (their own) deadline for approval, leaving me high&dry also in this regard.

My choices are the following: 1) Skip midterm and let the "portfolio" consist only of the final exam, thus breaking the rules. 2) Change the portfolio assessment from midterm to mandatory problem sets, thereby breaking the rules and causing myself tons of hours of extra work. 3) Find a way to comply with the new rules for midterm and keep the system approximately as it stands.

Option 3) is the only one that technically is legal, and also the one which is the hardest to implement. Partly because the midterm is going to take place between 5 and 7 PM, a time frame where no administrators and thus official inspectors are at work. Also because this alternative requires me to bring student information I'm not privy to.

I'm really not a fan of the central university administration.