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Harvard Ditching Final Exams?

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the love-the-kerning dept.

Education 371

itwbennett writes "According to Harvard magazine, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted at its meeting on May 11 to require instructors to officially inform the Registrar 'at the first week of the term' of the intention to end a course with a formal, seated exam, 'the assumption shall be that the instructor will not be giving a three-hour final examination.' Dean of undergraduate education Jay M. Harris 'told the faculty that of 1,137 undergraduate-level courses this spring term, 259 scheduled finals — the lowest number since 2002, when 200 fewer courses were offered. For the more than 500 graduate-level courses offered, just 14 had finals, he reported.'"

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371 comments

one step closer to drive thru degrees (3, Interesting)

Kristopeit, M. D. (1892582) | more than 3 years ago | (#33459840)

i mean if you can trust the professor without testing the student, why not trust the student directly? why make the student get out of their car?

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (5, Informative)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33459874)

Usually in classes of this sort, the grade is based on Project work and assignments that are completed.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (4, Interesting)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 3 years ago | (#33459928)

I don't go to Hahvahd, but I have sometimes had professors count big final projects instead of a big final written exam.
Sometimes the class content just isn't amenable to written exams.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (2, Insightful)

0111 1110 (518466) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460152)

I don't go to Hahvahd

I see that you have never been to Boston either. Only a relatively small percentage of Bostonians drop their Rs. And not many of those people can afford to go to Harvard.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460186)

I've seen the documentary known as "The Departed".

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (2, Informative)

Reverberant (303566) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460410)

I see that you have never been to Boston either. Only a relatively small percentage of Bostonians drop their Rs. And not many of those people can afford to go to Harvard.

I guess KingAlanI isn't the only one to have outmoded ideas of Boston area institutions. [harvard.edu]

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

imthesponge (621107) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460580)

There are always a class of families who make too much to qualify for financial aid but not enough to afford tuition + expenses. Not that that's necessarily such a bad thing, it's just the way it is.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (3, Insightful)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460610)

It's funny, because if you're a white, middle-class male you're automatically exempt from like 90% of the free money for college, and yet like 90% of the kids I go to school with are white, middle-class males.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (4, Informative)

Reverberant (303566) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460756)

That's less true at Harvard (and to a lesser extent MIT) than it has been in the past, if you're accepted they make a real effort to get you in at a cost you can afford and with minimal (or in Harvard's case, no) loans

From the page I linked:

  • family income under$60,000: $0 contribution
  • family income $60,000 to $180,000: 0 to 10% contribution on a sliding scale.
  • Home equity not considered an asset

I'm sure there are a handful of people who will have financial problems, but for the vast majority of students, the only impediment to attending Harvard is their academic performance.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33459940)

Usually in classes of this sort, the grade is based on Project work and assignments that are completed.

That's funny, because I can remember the majority of classes having 1 to 4 tests, maybe quizes, a midterm exam, an end of semester project (usually assigned midway or at the beginning of the class) and of course a final exam. I can only remember one 500-level course that allowed a final project substitute for the final exam, and of course the majority of the undergraduate courses had no real project.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

Garble Snarky (715674) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460386)

Four tests, midterm, final, AND a project, are you kidding? I have a bachelor's degree in engineering from a big 10 school, and the majority of classes I took involved about four "large" responsibilities, total. Two or three exams and one final OR project. And I never had a "midterm" that was in any way distinct from an "exam".

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (2, Interesting)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460480)

I've done comp sci and physics, and 4-5 things in a class is about normal. I'm teaching a course this year that will be 4 assignments and a final. I'm not thrilled at having a final, but when the class is big enough that you don't really know the students the only way to know if a student actually did any of the work they claimed is to test them on it, in class. On the other hand I'm not going to ask 3D game engine code in class time. It's a tricky balance, since brilliant coders may not be any good at tests, but the difference between brilliant coder, and brilliant at paying someone else to code for them is hard to check for.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (3, Insightful)

Kristopeit, M. D. (1892582) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460020)

most of my classes involved projects... almost all still had final exams involving theory... at the moment i can't recall any class i took that didn't require a final.

grading students on how much they get done, and never testing them on knowing why they did the things they got done in the way they did, or better yet how they should have got them done, is not higher education. it's tech school.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (3, Interesting)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460050)

i mean if you can trust the professor without testing the student, why not trust the student directly? why make the student get out of their car?

Given that most students only show up to school to get a degree to fill a job requirement line item, and will neither use the knowledge they allegedly collected nor attempt to apply it, what's wrong with drive through degrees?

Most jobs out there really need vocational training, but in the US that's tantamount to telling your child to go be a ditch digger (even if Med school and Law school are really just post-graduate vocational training). Instead we send them to Universities and tell our friends which University our child attends, where they drink, fuck and dig themselves in to debt for 3-4 years. Then, with their BA or BS, they march forth into the working world, expecting to learn everything important on the job. Why not just simplify this into a "here is your degree, now don't stick gum under the desk" approach. To a large extent corporations not only are OK with this, but encourage more of it with ever increasing degree requirements!

It's true that GPA is often requested by employers, but students have demonstrated a willingness to lie, cheat and steal (for decades) to get the GPA they need, so really this final exam thing is a formality anyway. The professors are there to research, why waste more time on a broken process that accomplishes nothing?

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (4, Insightful)

elwinc (663074) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460232)

???? What drive thru degrees????? Many of my grad level courses involved final projects instead of exams. There's still a huge crunch at the end of semester, but it's about the project instead of the exam. Exams are useful for testing theoretical knowledge in mature fields -- such as diff eq or stochastics -- but projects are better tests of applying said theoretical knowledge in an emerging field that a seminar might cover.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

Kristopeit, M. D. (1892582) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460258)

what's wrong with drive through degrees

nothing... as long as you never want to give any extra credit to degrees based on testing / board certification.

(get it? extra credit. you all get an A+)

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460740)

The entire point of board certification, bar exams, etc. are to demonstrate that you are qualified to practice a certain profession. Those that have published scores have built in extra credit!

Anything in universities is really inconsistent anyway, so the hell with it. If you want to fuck off for 4+ years, go nuts, good luck on your certifications.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

Kristopeit, M. D. (1892582) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460830)

so a college degree is not meant to demonstrate you are qualified to practice a certain profession... good to know that. so many people must be as confused as i was. were you the one that explained it to the harvard administration?

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (0, Troll)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460514)

i can vouch for the truth of this. university is nothing more then elitist snobbery at it's worst, i've worked in my field for 12 years and i've never had a single graduate come into the job with even the slightest understanding of how the real world works. all of them without exception have needed training in the basics from day one.

in a rather cruel twist i'm finding that to progress my own career, i now have to go back to school and get the same piece of worthless paper that all those clueless graduates had, and i'm also seeing why they were so clueless - unless your planning on staying in academia, university really isn't setup to prepare anyone for the working world.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

Sam36 (1065410) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460870)

as an ex meth addict, I am very happy to finally be earning my degree.

Problem-Based Learning (1)

teethdood (867281) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460068)

Harvard and some other schools instituted the so called "Problem-Based Learning" in which instead of the traditional roles of educators spoon-feeding students information in class, the educators would give students a problem for them to do their own research on, then at the end of the week, they would meet in a small group and discuss the problem along with the educator. PBL then doesn't require sitting for final exams etc. The idea is that this method would stimulate independent thinking/research-focused minds. However this method is proving to be a failure in certain professional schools. I will not name names but a certain school in SoCal decided to switch to PBL in their dental program. Instead of getting students to do their own research, these students would just hang out, get a job somewhere, help out at their parents' business, etc. They depended on their fellow classmates to come up with the answers. The end result is that they aren't really prepared for the Board exams. They aren't prepared in substance (studying) AND in the fact that they haven't been exposed to intense sitting exams (the Board exams take 2-3 days). Students need to be forced to go to class every day, get information shoved down their throat, and be grilled and final-tested because sometimes their profession requires the grand-daddy of final exams.

Re:Problem-Based Learning (1)

Kristopeit, M. D. (1892582) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460210)

being able to solve a problem doesn't prove to a potential employer that you understand how to solve a problem right, and what makes that solution more right than any other solution. not spoon feeding students until they understand theory is probably contributing to the large number of idiots i have to deal with.

Re:Problem-Based Learning (1)

shriphani (1174497) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460578)

Very few undergraduates I know take an active interest in research. At a school like MIT, Harvard or Caltech (throw in the schools take take extremely motivated kids) you can trust the undergraduate to take things seriously. Everywhere else, you are wasting your time and money if you expect the students to take an active interest in learning - kids don't want to take advantage of office hours currently.. to place them in control of finding, accumulating and critiquing their own literature is just wrong and contradicts everything known about human behavior Also did the kids get a refund for the school's experiment? I would sue if a college wasted an entire year of a kid's undergraduate life just because of a hypothesis of a new / untested teaching style.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (5, Insightful)

onionman (975962) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460076)

i mean if you can trust the professor without testing the student, why not trust the student directly? why make the student get out of their car?

Well, I am a math professor (although at a much lowlier school than Harvard) and I've never had a great opinion of in-class testing. The simple fact is that in the short duration of an in-class test you can't give the students substantive problems to work on. Thus, in-class tests (or any other short-duration timed test) is really an exercise in "how quickly can you work lots of relatively shallow problems".

I far prefer to give my students lots and lots of really hard take-home problems. I call on them randomly in class to present their solutions at the board and explain their work. This is virtually cheat-proof... if you copy from someone, then it is obvious when I'm quizzing you at the board to prove your assertions. The only draw back of this method is that it takes a lot of effort on the professor's part, and it's only feasible on reasonably-sized classes. I can't do this when I'm teaching a 30-student class of freshman calculus.

My guess is that Harvard is the type of place where class size isn't an issue. When you've got really small classes (under 10 students) then you can really gauge the knowledge level of each student because you are engaging each one individually in every class meeting. That's the ideal learning environment, but it's expensive.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (4, Insightful)

imthesponge (621107) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460134)

"it's only feasible on reasonably-sized classes. I can't do this when I'm teaching a 30-student class of freshman calculus."

30 students is a lot? I guess it wouldn't work with 200 then..

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460192)

Yeah, 30 is *desirable*, especially for freshman calculus.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (4, Insightful)

onionman (975962) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460276)

"it's only feasible on reasonably-sized classes. I can't do this when I'm teaching a 30-student class of freshman calculus."

30 students is a lot? I guess it wouldn't work with 200 then..

What's the point in teaching a 200 person class? You can't interact with them at all, you can't actually grade their papers, and you can't judge the knowledge of a student in any meaningful way. Universities that run ridiculous classes like that are just stealing the students' money and wasting the professor's time. The professor might as well just video the lectures and put them on the web... which I think is what Khan is doing.

The whole fucking point of a professor is to INTERACT with the students.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (3, Informative)

imthesponge (621107) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460318)

There are teaching assistants and smaller "discussion" sections in which to interact and grade papers.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (3, Informative)

onionman (975962) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460838)

There are teaching assistants and smaller "discussion" sections in which to interact and grade papers.

Ah, I work at a lowly school. We don't have teaching assistants. The professors do all the teaching, all the discussing, and all of the grading.

Of course, in grad school I was one of those TAs leading discussion sections like you've just described. What I realized then was that most of the learning took place either in the discussion sessions or while the students were working on their homework. Really, those giant lectures could have been video presentations and it wouldn't have made any difference to the students.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460446)

"What's the point in teaching a 200 person class?"

The point is that it's a lot cheaper while still feasible if you *teach* and they do their damn job and *learn*. When, after their hard learning work, they still have doubts they come to you, one by one, out of class time, and you explain them personally from a different angle.

"The whole fucking point of a professor is to INTERACT with the students."

Not. That's what our current moronic spoon-feeding society thinks, wants and expects. The whole fucking point of a professor is to TEACH. Students are already quite good by themselves about INTERACTing... in campus parties.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (4, Interesting)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460498)

200 person classes are typically freshman, state-required (for state college board accreditation) weed-out classes. i.e. worthless classes that would otherwise require you to hire an extra six entry level professors ($400,000, plus benefits = about half a million dollars) to handle the teaching load. Assuming an average class size of 30.
 
If you're in a 200 person class for junior and senior level classes, you're either at a degree mill, you've pissed off your advior/dean, or both.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (4, Informative)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460646)

otherwise require you to hire an extra six entry level professors ($400,000, plus benefits = about half a million dollars) to handle the teaching load. Assuming an average class size of 30.

Instead they hire 6 grad students at about $50,000 (stipend + tuition) a year with no benefits to teach the classes. I'm fine with this of course, since it's paying for my education. I'm a TA for two 30 student sections of a 200 student course. It's introductory engineering, and I find it very rewarding, since I'm one of their first real contacts at the university. I'm only a few years older than them, and I think they can relate to me better than the stodgey old professor in the giant lecture hall.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (2, Informative)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460656)

The first college I went to, several of my freshman classes had over 500 students in massive lecture halls. I failed out. Now I'm back in school, in an engineering program and getting great grades. Why? There's 8 people in the electrical engineering program for my year. That's 8 people in pretty much all of my classes. It's a huge difference.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (3, Funny)

Kristopeit, M. D. (1892582) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460230)

ah yes... i remember students who had the "take-home" math classes... i wonder why they were always giving me things after i solved the fun puzzles they would bring me.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (2, Insightful)

trout007 (975317) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460576)

I was reading about the history of Universities starting in the Mid East. It was only one book but it was interesting. The Universities sounded like a mall where each professor would buy a shop and just start talking about the subject they taught. People could come and go and listen to them freely, kind of like auditing a course. Then if you were interested in that particular teacher you would sit down and tell them what you were interested in an negotiate the fee. You then became their student where they would actually interested with you in class and have private tutoring time, ect. Back then you were only learned what you were interested in and there were no degrees. I graduated with a BS in mechanical engineering and computer science. After my degrees I decide to just randomly take masters level courses that interested me. I didn't care about the degree since my job wouldn't even pay me more if I had one. But I've found I am enjoying the work more than I ever did as an undergrad.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460704)

"if you copy from someone, then it is obvious when I'm quizzing you at the board to prove your assertions."

Not so, cause its much easier to see the solution and then figure out how it was derived, rather than doing the entire solution yourself

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460736)

Funny that you'd mention that teaching style on /.. Not only does it force students to come to class, effectively marking attendance which irritates many/most of us. But in front of class on the fly answers would FAIL a large number of us regardless of math ability. And to top it off, the other thing you mark is homework? Which is hilariously easy to cheat on and therefore no indicator of intellect or understand, it only harms those that are honest and won't cheat/work together.

Your system effectively destroys the average /.er even though many of them may be a LOT better at math than the average. Oh goody.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

jmerlin (1010641) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460854)

I really hate this as well. It sucks especially for us graduate math students. All semester you have lectures and student-involved proofs of rather deep mathematics as well as insight-provoking assignments that can easily take 6+ hours to complete (we usually have 1 a week per course), even if it's only 5 questions. Then at the midterm and for the final you have these 1-2 hour exams where you're tested on memorization of facts where accuracy and recall of minute detail from memory is the key and you're given a lot of shallow simple problems. Worst of all the professor is a Ph.D., probably with much more experience in the field than you have. This is good from a perspective that they can teach you much and effectively answer any questions you might have, but often they will give a problem with a trick which is obvious to them but not at all obvious to you. At least not with a 1.5 hour time limit dancing around in your head effectively killing any creativity. You just want to hit yourself when 30 minutes after the test is over you remember a brilliant fact that would've made that proof a 3-liner, and even more so when your professor later says that is better than how they solved it.

When dealing with real problems, you get time to think, and you can use books as a reference. It gets discouraging during tests like these when the only thing between you and a succinct and correct proof to the problem is that obscure step.. but you remember it.. you distinctly remember it.. you can even recall the exact theorem who's proof you were presented used it.. and perhaps you can even recall the basic idea.. but because you didn't obsess over memorizing that single fact, you can't seem to get it just right. Just "knowing about it" and being able to properly use a 800+ page book on algebra (D&F, yeah, it's huge) as a reference will only get you 1/10 points for the problem (yes, if it's not perfect, it's pretty much a failure, right?). Even worse, when you ask your professor a problem of any real complexity, like the ones they ask you, they often go straight to their text for insight as well, so if everyone does it as the source material is so vast that holding every tiny little detail in your head is difficult and counter-productive (it's not the precise detail that matters, it's the concepts and the understanding), what's the point of testing your ability to do that?

Mathematics ceases to be a worthwhile educational choice when the material being covered reaches a complexity so involved that a seated in-class test cannot possibly provide enough time to complete a problem set that can hope to prove that you understand the material and your grade is highly impacted by such a test. It only gets worse when the small selection of material tested includes that one bit of the course you didn't fully understand, but the other 98% you have rock solid, or it's that one little minute trick that the author did without explaining it in much detail (nor did your professor, and at the time doing it in class it seemed obvious, but the huge elephant in the room that is a time limit prevents you from seeing the problem with enough clarity to recall what obviated it), leaving you with a poor grade even though you feel you sufficiently understand the material. Nothing beats walking away from a test like that, it makes you think "why the hell am I even taking these courses?"

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460558)

i mean if you can trust the professor without testing the student, why not trust the student directly? why make the student get out of their car?

Driving to get your degree isn't very environmentally responsible. Just think of all the CO2! Better to do e-mail degrees. Even better a real time saver would be degrees at birth. Parents could simply write Harvard a check for 200K and know that their little bundle of joy gets to start life with his PHD ready and waiting for him when he graduates high school.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

Kristopeit, M. D. (1892582) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460676)

nah... too similar to university of phoenix online. harvard has class... you actually have to show up once and pull up to the window.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460570)

Reduced standards are not the issue. Lack of a final exam in the formal exam period does not preclude a final exam of some type that is equally rigorous.

I don't know how it works at Harvard, but formal exam schedules at any university I've attended or taught at are a pain in the butt because as an instructor you have NO control over when the exam gets scheduled. The students don't like it either, because if they want to travel home or off to a job at the end of term then they must book their transportation months in advance for after the entire final exam period (e.g., the last few days before Christmas), a time in which they will be competing with everyone else crammed into those same few days of travel, or they book earlier and play the odds that they won't get an exam scheduled on the very last day. It's risky because the registrar doesn't set the schedule until middle of term, and the longer students wait the more costly and difficult it will get to book travel.

I still remember the year that I gave an exam on the very last day of the Christmas exam schedule, 7-10pm at night. I think it was 4 days before Christmas. The students hated it almost as much as I did, but I was powerless to change it. Even though I always tell them at the start of class that this can happen (and that it has), I regularly get a couple every term who foolishly book their flights before they know the exam date. Then they come to me begging for a solution that doesn't cost them money. Tough luck -- they knew the risks.

At my university, more and more instructors are setting their exams earlier or finding other ways to do the final assessment because the traditional formal exam is so inconvenient. In classes with 20 people I usually take a poll at the start of the class for when and how they want to write the final exam of a specified duration. It saves a lot of grief for everyone versus being at the whim of the registrar's office.

I've always had to notify the registrar whether or not I would have a final exam, and I'm contractually obliged to hand out a syllabus with the grading scheme on day one. What I don't understand is why the registrar can't provide the exam schedule in the first week or two of classes. Then I can tell the students well in advance. Is it really *that* hard a programming / logistics problem?

Basically, the registrar's failure to deal with the inconvenience of a formal exam schedule beyond instructor's and students' control has caused the instructors to find other ways to do it.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460680)

Sometimes a bulk of finals is a bit unfair esp. when 50% or more of your grade goes into it and you can't pick your exam schedule. I remember in college, one quarter I had taken 5 classes, and 3 of my finals were on the same day, early in the week, one day after the final papers were due on the other 2.

Massively sucked. It's hard to say that after that schedule, on my 2nd or 3rd exam, it was necessarily a "fair" test to those classmates who only took 2 or 3 classes that quarter and had a more spread out exam schedule over the 5 days of finals.

In grad school, I had a statistics class where I nearly aced every mid term, quiz, and lab session (out of like 15 tests, I had one partial credit, rest were correct). I had a compressed schedule the week of finals (I was in a dual degree program), an extended lab session the night before, and a paper due that morning of the statistics final. I finished the paper, turned it in, reviewed for the final, slept 4 hours, and fubar'd the final. Basically, I finished the final early, got the jitters, decided to check my answers because I hadn't slept, and changed half my answers...of course, I changed them from being correct to incorrect.

My fault, stupid me, bad judgment, but it's not exactly a fair evaluation. I was annoying (that my U didn't have such a policy) when I learned other schools allowed papers to be turned in on Fridays of their exam week and students set up their final exam schedule in general testing rooms (you took the test when you were ready at some point during exam week).

Then again, at least my week off for spring was more like 2 weeks than 1 week and an extra weekend. Too bad my college degree didn't land me any jobs, ever. Biology degrees are freaking worthless.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

Kristopeit, M. D. (1892582) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460788)

1. you obviously spread yourself too thin.

2. you didn't land yourself any jobs, don't blame your degree. especially one suited for graduate studies in a specialized field.

i did a dual degree program too... i graduated a semester early... i had 3 final exams on 1 day more than once... i had over 3.5 GPA. it was never a problem.

if a student can't show up for a test a be expected to pass without cramming, there is either something wrong with the test or the student.

Re:one step closer to drive thru degrees (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460710)

Chairman Claude Pepper (D FL) was investigating diploma mills. He wrote an essay and got his degree. He reported this as "I have achieved a lifelong dream. I am now Dr. Pepper."

It's ok... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33459844)

It's OK, it's not like they were real exams...they were only McDonald's applications. 100% if you filled it out completely.

Why not? (2, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 3 years ago | (#33459846)

Why not ditch finals? The hurdle at these schools is getting in not getting through. Once you are in they pad your grades, and pass everyone anyway.

prove it (1)

CaptainNerdCave (982411) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460400)

[citation needed]

Re:prove it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460686)

Well I guess we now know someone who failed out of Harvard :)

What a shame (4, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#33459848)

If only they had 200 more undergraduate-level courses.

Re:What a shame (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33459936)

That sure would have been 1337.

Re:What a shame (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460364)

Peter: Okay, guys. We're playing Texas Hold 'Em.
Ted Turner: Are aces high or low?
Peter: They go both ways.
Bill Gates: He said, "They go both ways."
[All laughing]
Ted Turner: Like a bisexual.
Michael Eisner: Thank you, Ted. That was the joke.

Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer finals. (4, Insightful)

srothroc (733160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33459884)

It's worth noting that it says "three-hour exams," and nothing else. There are other courses that could have other kinds of finals -- for example, engineering courses with comprehensive final projects or liberal arts courses with final papers/presentations and the like. In some ways, it makes more sense for students to work on a final project that utilizes the skills they're supposed to have learned in real-world situations -- especially for engineers.

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33459998)

This is in general what happens. I was a math major there, and even a couple years ago very few math classes past the freshman level had sit-down final exams. Almost all of them, though, had take-home exams which were a much more thorough test of the students' abilities and took a lot longer than three hours (usually three days or so). I think this makes more sense and is a better measure of understanding. There are issues of cheating of course, but with a well-designed exam I think this problem can be minimized.

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (4, Informative)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460000)

Right, this is only formal, seated exams. My undergrad classes mostly had formal exams, but none of my grad classes did. They were all take-home exams (except for the experimental class, which had an informal oral exam). Most of them were the cruel 24-hour take-home exam.

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460024)

How do you compare two students, if they submit equally good papers, but the first student wrote the paper in 1 hour on the day before, while the second student needed 3 months of editing and lots of help from his friends?

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (4, Insightful)

rotide (1015173) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460052)

Easy, one is good at doing work and the other will be their manager. I'll let you figure out who is who.

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (2, Interesting)

imthesponge (621107) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460056)

Don't professors generally assume that you took all the time available to you and didn't procrastinate?

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (1)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460440)

Does the three-hour final give bonus points to the guy who finished in an hour instead of three hours?

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (1)

doctorpangloss (1802380) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460486)

As a student here (there), I'll tell you no, there are no bonus points for being efficient.

Also, to GP, the final projects are much preferred; they're more pleasant, more fun (since they're generally group assignments), survive for a while (particularly good projects)... In every way, the final project is

I applaud the University's declining final exam administration and change in norms. Final exams are an anachronism and don't belong in research universities.

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460706)

I'd say that situation is unlikely. I've never seen a paper written in an hour up to par with one that has been written, rewritten, and edited to perfection. Show me a paper you wrote in an hour you feel is perfect, and I'll show you some corrections you need to make. If you think you're an exception, you're a) arrogant, and b) probably not a good writer.

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (1)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460040)

Yep, very few professions require fill-in-the-right-bubble skills outside of schools... so having them actually build or write out plans for how they would build something is a much better test.

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460284)

for example, engineering courses with comprehensive final projects

So that's maybe four out of around fifty subjects in the course of an engineering degree.
Has Harvard gone from the top to being one of the worst Universities or is US undergraduate education at the point where all we can expect from graduates is being able to cut and paste from wikipedia?

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (1)

trout007 (975317) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460652)

I have a BS in mechanical engineering. There are some simple problems any ME should be able to do because you will do them for the rest of your career. The ones you should know off the top of your head is how to calculate moments and deflections in simple beams. You should be able to find loads in static structures. You should be able to figure out simple dynamic problems. You should know how to figure out stresses in tension members, beams, and welds. When I interview for new hires these are the problems I give them. They should know these things. It isn't a matter of "Oh I could just look that up in a book". You spend 4 years studying you better know it.

Re:Fewer exams doesn't necessarily mean fewer fina (1)

JakartaDean (834076) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460860)

It's worth noting that it says "three-hour exams," and nothing else. There are other courses that could have other kinds of finals -- for example, engineering courses with comprehensive final projects or liberal arts courses with final papers/presentations and the like. In some ways, it makes more sense for students to work on a final project that utilizes the skills they're supposed to have learned in real-world situations -- especially for engineers.

I graduated from a good Engineering program in 1986, and as I recall we had final exams in every subject -- six per semester for four years. The one exception was the senior project, or thesis, where we had to do the work, prepare a final report and defend it to a panel of professors. Class size was well over 30 in the first 1.5 years, dropping to 30 or less after that.

My eldest child is entering a political science program next week. I've been told all classes will be around 300, and everyone brings laptops to class to take notes. I can't even imagine it. In our classes a professor who didn't accept interruptions was a bad professor. The flip side was that a student who raised too many interruptions was made to feel the error of his* ways.

* The use of the masculine pronoun is all-too appropriate, sadly for both us and the profession. I hope that at least has changed.

Missing out (3, Funny)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 3 years ago | (#33459966)

Can't say it's good or bad, but these kids will miss out on the cathartic drunken debauchery on the weekend following the finals.

Kids these days... buncha pussies.

Other Finals (4, Informative)

BBCWatcher (900486) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460004)

Harvard has a variety of final course requirements. A lot of courses require final papers which take a lot more than 3 hours to write. (That includes senior theses, which take a very long time to write.) A few require oral presentations, and some require projects. Still others require passing exams during the course itself. What's been going on for years (decades?) is that Harvard would schedule classrooms and staff to support test-taking only to find that professors had other ideas (and often at the "last minute," administratively speaking). Occasionally even the students didn't get the memo, and a few stranglers might show up only to find out there's no exam. All that said, I wish Harvard would provide professors and students with more guidance on assessments. The College should try to enforce some basic standards more effectively.

Re:Other Finals (5, Funny)

brian_tanner (1022773) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460042)

and a few stranglers might show up only to find out there's no exam.

How very disappointing for the stranglers. I'm assuming they were hired to deal with the cheaters?

Final exams already ditched, registrar catches up (4, Informative)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460026)

Registrars are like air traffic control at universities. They keep track of where a class is being held (and make sure they don't double-book a room), who's teaching it, who's attending, what grades the students got...

When I was in school, as soon as the registrar released their schedule for final exam blocks, I e-mailed the professor to ask if this rumor the registrar was spreading was true. Many wanted to hold their finals earlier than the stated date, with the exception of the math department which wanted the last finals slot and always got it.

To me, this was critical information, I wanted to be able to tell my school break job when I'd be back in town so they could plan my work. The earlier I knew when the finals were and weren't, the better.

So, really this is a registrar reacting to a change that has already happened. Final projects have replaced the final exam in many classes, so if a professor wants to hold a memory-based final they need to alert the registrar, as that office's default assumption is changing to if they don't ask for a finals slot, they don't need it.

Bring back the oral exam (4, Interesting)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460034)

Whats old is new again, they really should bring back the oral exam. Not only does it make for a great name for porn movies, it actually is probably the easiest way to accurately asses the students understanding of the material and prevents cheating(for the most part). Best of all, it doesn't take 3 hours per student.

Have hands to tests as well and don't have fixed a (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460104)

Have hands to tests as well and don't have fixed answers when more then 1 way can be the right answers and don't give a 0 for ones that get half of the answer right.

Have hands on to tests as well and don't have fixe (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460184)

Have hands on to tests as well and don't have fixed answers when more then 1 way can be the right answers and don't give a 0 for ones that get half of the answer right.

Re:Bring back the oral exam (2, Insightful)

l3prador (700532) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460290)

Best of all, it doesn't take 3 hours per student.

But even in a small class of 20, if it takes a half hour per student, that's 10 hours for the professor.

Re:Bring back the oral exam (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460488)

Thats what grad students were made for! Unfortunately recently US universities seem intent on admitting as many non-English speaking students as possible, so I'm not even sure you could use TAs to accurately asses students during oral exams....

Re:Bring back the oral exam (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460616)

You mean "That's", right?

signed: a non-English speaking student.

Re:Bring back the oral exam (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460700)

Signed Anonymous Coward? You anonymous coward.

Re:Bring back the oral exam (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460784)

That's correct, though had this been an oral exam you wouldn't have picked that up :P

Also judging from your comment, you obviously are an "English-speaking student". You may not be a native-English speaker, but you obviously profess some proficiency in the language. The grad students I was complaining about have almost no proficiency in the language, especially the spoken language. Trying to communicate with them in is an exercise in frustration.

Re:Bring back the oral exam (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460780)

Unfortunately recently US universities seem intent on admitting as many non-English speaking students as possible, so I'm not even sure you could use TAs to accurately asses students during oral exams.

Too true. I just started gradschool in computer engineering. They admitted 10 new students; I am the only American, while the rest are from China. We have some required first year courses together, and the before-class conversation is all in Chinese. What's worse, is they're starting to come to me for help with spelling and grammar. I'm happy to help them try to learn, but I have a feeling it's going to get out of hand when I get 9 requests to edit 9 different papers.

Re:Bring back the oral exam (2, Insightful)

scotty.m (1881826) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460494)

Yep.. thats 3 hours concurrently. You could test 200 students in a 3 hour exam.
Or with a 10 minute oral assessment, it would only take 4 working days.

An oral assessment would grade presentation ability which is irrelevant to course content. Why make the rain-man do a presentation on differential integrals? He'd fail!

Re:Bring back the oral exam (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460816)

An oral assessment would grade presentation ability which is irrelevant to course content.

But exceedingly relevant to life. Event academic research cannot exist without the ability to present (grant writing, paper writing, seminars, conferences).

Re:Bring back the oral exam (1)

udippel (562132) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460828)

An oral assessment would grade presentation ability which is irrelevant to course content

I can understand your argument, if your /.-ID reflects your physical age.
As someone who went through a program with almost all oral exams, in a time when a 'power point' was still a socket in the wall, delivering 220V, 50Hz, usually, I can confirm that there was nothing about 'presentation skills' in our oral exams. It would be questions by the professors from the first minute onwards, and the students' task was just to answer. And in those days, it wasn't considered politically incorrect to simply cut off excessive sentences from the students, and inject the next question instead.

I still do it at times with my own students, and find it amazingly simple, and insightful, to gauge the understanding of the student. In finals, including my own, to be frank, once too often questions appear, where the answer can be memorized; where an answer can be 'good' without containing much of knowledge and understanding. Talk to the person, and it takes less than a minute to find out if s(he) is a cheat.

YMMV

Non-unique. (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460046)

It's common in upper-level classes for professors to give informal exams based on projects, presentations, papers, etc. The structured, proctored and timed three-hour exam referred to here is mostly for the beginning classes, largely because (a) administrative pressures demand it, probably considering the amount of attention they get and, thus, the amount of weight they place in accreditation and outside perception, (b) freshman-level classes usually have an extremely high number of students and (c) they teach the core fundamentals, which can be tested down to a science (no pun intended).

Examples:
  • A professor of a Black Urban Studies course I took at NYU (great class!) based the entire grade on one 15-page paper.
  • Over 30% of my last undergraduate semester grade was based on a senior design project. Not exactly a typical final exam, though it is one of sorts...
  • One of the most interesting courses I took, a Intro to Theater course (at an engineering school!) made the final exam a play (fun!)

Re:Non-unique. (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460072)

I forgot to note that final exams are, essentially, somewhat unrealistic given the fact that the "tests" outside of schooling are almost never examinations and usually tend to have much more dire outcomes.

Tests just test how good your memory is not (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460066)

Tests just test how good your memory is. Not how to use that info in work place / real life.

Some certification tests are like that you can learn the test and have little to no idea on how to use that info in the work place.

Great Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460094)

Finals week is a fantastic way to destroy a complete semester's worth of hard work.

Whatever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460108)

Not like anybody good ever learned anything at Harvard.

Harvard can pick only the best students (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460244)

Harvard graduates something like 96% of its incoming students. MIT graduates something like 94%. The students entering institutions like that already know more than the graduates of lesser schools.

Whatever Harvard does will be just fine ... for Harvard. My school, where I have 100 students in a class and I get about 5 minutes to evaluate each student, will keep final exams because that's all we have time to do. OK, so I exaggerate a bit but it really does come down to economics. How much time do you have to work with and evaluate each student? If you don't have much time, you have to use exams.

Re:Harvard can pick only the best students (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460294)

"The students entering institutions like that already know more than the graduates of lesser schools."

Of course that's not counting students who get in because of being the correct race or just because the school feels "sorry" for them.

Re:Harvard can pick only the best students (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460760)

No they don't. I live across the river from Harvard, where I regularly interact with students. Harvard is a good school with a great brand, nothing more, nothing less. If anything, the students at Harvard suffer from a very strong peer norming pressure, where they come to believe they deserve the ridiculous opportunities (without validation) that the Harvard brand affords them. The professional schools (law, business) are the worst in this respect; the graduate programs (ie, Arts & Sciences) are the most likely to produce a human being who produces in proportion to their consumption. I think it is a shame that the school is following the assumption "once you are accepted into Harvard, you are already successful by definition, and you no longer have to perform." Isn't the point of schooling to educate, not to certify? How can education work without performance feedback?

MIT is a different story. While there are clearly many opportunities and the MIT brand is also powerful, in general, the typical student at MIT is more interested in proving themselves rather than just taking advantage of the brand. Maybe my experience is limited, but by now, n > 100.

It just irks me that so many people perpetuate the myth that Harvard or MIT is some blessed land of the talented. Disclosure: my undergraduate degree was from a state university; my PhD was Ivy...I speak from experience.

Faddishness? (2, Informative)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460404)

Coincidentally, I read a piece today comparing the core curricula [newcriterion.com] of Columbia vs. that of Harvard over the years. The gist of the piece was that while Harvard has had some interesting experimentation, they've also been prone to basing their course requirements on esoteric themes that no one outside of academia really sees the point in, and that Columbia, by contrast, has been much more committed to the classical means of teaching and curriculum. In short, the article posits that Columbia is more concerned with the acquisition of knowledge (and hopefully, some wisdom), while Harvard is much more into being a trendsetter and concentrating on the process of learning. Columbia: it's what you learn. Harvard: it's how you learn. Most people have this mental image of Harvard as being a place where you're enveloped in Plato, Milton, and Shakespeare, and apparently, unless you choose to be, that's not true anymore. There's really not a reading list that all students are required to master anymore. If you want to leave all that dusty stuff behind, hey, fine by the profs. Columbia requires all students to study the important books of the western cannon. So if you're looking for a classical Ivy League education, ironically Harvard may be the last place you should go.

At berkeley, peers grade you! (1)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460454)

Most of the classes I've seen at Berkeley have impossible to complete exams where the highest grade might be a 85% at the end of a final. The teachers purposely make it this hard and grade it on a curve and personally I think that there's too much variance but it seems to work since it's one of the better schools out there. In the end, if you fail your final and so do your peers so you can all get a good grade except for the one at the bottom.

not surprising (1)

Schnoogs (1087081) | more than 3 years ago | (#33460484)

Harvard is pretty liberal and they are all about participation trophies and other politically correct shit like that

and this is relevant to Slashot because... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460540)

There are small administrative changes made and reported all the time at universities. I know people love gossip about elite institutions and all, but seriously this is a pretty lame story.

I agree - for bright students in Ivy-League (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33460650)

Yes, mod me down as 'racist'. I don't mind.
But don't do it with Asians.
I'm teaching CS in one of the universities there, and everyone loves projects to replace finals. The students copy and paste, cheat, and outsource their projects almost throughout. And when I point this out to my colleagues, sorry, they scold me for failing the students. What to expect from staff that follow Asian copy-cat culture in their own publications, and do so - and this needs to be conceded - without any bad consciousness.

If the large majority of the students is motivated, willing to learn, eager to learn, curious, inquisitive, independent, I fully agree that exams can usually be done away with. But when you have a troop of llamas who care only about a great CGPA, with minimal effort, and no desire at all to do the learning part, doing away with exams simply doesn't work.
 

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