A Student-Centered Final

Like most of the instructors at VC this week, I have been frantically grading, prepping final exams for next week, and trying to tie up loose ends. At the same time, I’ve been looking ahead to the spring semester and trying to plan and prepare for that as well. It’s been a little crazy and chaotic, so I haven’t done much research and didn’t really prepare for this blog post this week. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have anything to share with you (thought you were getting off easy there, didn’t you?).

As I wrapped up one of my classes, I wanted to try something that we have discussed a great deal in SEAL Academy and in some of my other workshops – giving students choices or options for assignments. I’ve always wanted to try this in my classes, but I’ve never felt as though I really had any good alternatives for the assignments I provided. This semester, however, I wanted to do something different for my final exam. As I hadn’t built anything into the syllabus that would meet the requirements for the course, I had to experiment with the format of the final exam itself. I usually give a multiple-choice exam, and I wanted to keep that as an option. It was easy to prepare because I modified the exam from last year a bit. However, I know that some students don’t do well with multiple-choice exams. They overthink the choices, or they misread the questions. To provide other options, I found articles and case studies on topics that we discussed throughout the semester. I arranged these articles into two packets – one focused on case studies and the other focused on issues in the profession. I created 20 questions for each packet that the students will answer in short answer format, citing the articles and their textbook for support. The third option consisted of 5 short videos illustrating concepts discussed in class throughout the semester. The students would watch the videos and write 2 essays (each video had an essay question and the students would choose which 2 to answer) analyzing the videos for best practices and adding suggestions for what could have been improved.

I worried that my students would panic when I presented these choices, but I shouldn’t have. They expressed great appreciation for the options that I provided. I distributed a Final Exam Decision Sheet on Tuesday that explained each option, and the students had to return it to me with their final decision by the end of class. This allowed me to prep the materials (the review sheet for the multiple choice questions, the packets of readings for the short answer questions and the links to the videos for the essay questions) so that I could distribute them on Thursday. Of the choices, about half of the class chose the multiple-choice exam and the other half chose the packets in a fairly even split between the case studies and the issues articles. No one chose the essays option, but I wasn’t that surprised by this.

I haven’t given the exams yet or graded them, but I’m counting this as a win for the moment. I’ll update you on the results next week.

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