Blog Post

04. Beyond the term paper: Integrating class blogging into midterm/final exams

I have been using blogs and discussion boards in my courses for as long as I have been teaching. Depending on the course, students are required to post to a class blog either once a week or before every class session. At times I will ask the students to respond to specific prompts, at times I will ask the students to post their own comments and questions about assigned readings, and occasionally I will ask students to post initial ideas or outlines for their more formal written assignments. Frequently I require the students to comment upon each other's posts. The students' blogs then become a central element of each class session. I'm confident I don't need to give a rationale to the HASTAC community for why this is a sound pedagogical practice, so I'll skip that altogether and jump straight to the point.

I had been wanting to more seamlessly integrate my students' short response essays (i.e. blogs) into the other forms of assessment I use in my courses. I mostly teach upper-division culture and literature courses on Latin America, and the prevailing wisdom in my field is that a term paper is the gold standard for end-of-semester evaluation. I toyed around with the idea of creating a specific assignment sequence of blog posts that would lead to a final research paper; that was successful, but I wanted to go further.

In my most recent seminar on rewriting the conquest of the Americas in contemporary genre fiction (science fiction, detective novels, conspiracy theories, etc.), I took full advantage of the experimental nature of the course content to also experiment with a new final assessment. Instead of a final research paper, the students had to select five of their blogs from the semester to revise into short essays. Here is the assignment in full:

 

Choose five of the texts we have studied this semester (including plastic works, performances, and films); for each text, write a short analysis (500-600 words) commenting the most significant elements of the text. Do not write any fluff or filler; the professor will be your reader, so you do not need to introduce the texts or summarize the plot. You do not need to consult outside sources, but you are required to support your interpretations with textual evidence. You are encouraged to develop and expand your original blog postings on these texts, but if your interpretation has changed significantly, you are welcome to completely revise your position. In any case, please include the corresponding blog posts when you submit your final exam.

 

I also gave the students the option to write a traditional research paper instead of the "short answer" option. Only one student wrote the traditional research paper, although I had to repeatedly assure a few other students they were not "taking the easy way out" by selecting the short answer option (whatever that meant...).

The experiment was a smashing success, at least in my own opinion. For my colleagues who feel uncomfortable with an upper-division seminar that does not culminate in a 15-page research paper, I respond: the students will get that experience when they take you class next term.

I was able to teach revision in a way that is much closer to the kind of writing students may be doing outside of class. For at least one student, the very concept of *revising* a blog post was in itself a revelation. We did an in-class guided peer review session the last week of the course; this helped many students, especially since I focused the peer review on identifying textual evidence (or lack thereof) in support of their analytical/interpretive claims.

I will be making one change in the future: I will add a mid-term exam where the students will revise one of their early blogs into a short essay, essentially reproducing the conditions of the final exam on a smaller scale. This will serve as a trial run for the students and allow them to get feedback on the revision portion of the assignment before the end of the semester.

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1 comment

I found this interesting in the fact that we are now stepping out of the traditional ways to give midterms/final exam. This is great because the education system is changing. The minds of students are changing; as generations go by, our mind is processing information differently. So over time there has to be another way to asset what was learned through the year. The current basic standard may not work anymore. Yet, it’s difficult to take the risk of stepping away from something familiar. Perhaps it is from the fear of completely failing or not knowing the possible outcome. It’s especially risky when it is for midterm /final exams. What if students didn’t understand the project completely with a non-traditional method or other reason? Although taking the risk could have a positive outcome to it too. It could lead to a great discovery; a new way to assess what was learned. The great thing about what Mr. Zimmer did was that he didn’t just decided to give a single option to his students, but he gave his students the option to either do the blogging for their midterm/final exams or pick the standard short answer option. Mr. Zimmer might have wanted to give his students option and who doesn’t like different options. Every student learns differently so it’s understandable that they are able to express what they learn in the best way they can, this could be essay, project, or the more traditional standard testing. I did some research from this site : http://teaching.monster.com/news/articles/10030-final-exams-are-quietly-vanishing-from-college

The article discussed how the traditional final exams may be vanishing from college. Too many students find final exams dreadful it’s almost like a rite of passage everyone wants to get past! Although now it’s seems to have changed, finals are now vanishing! Is this good? Or are we heading in the wrong direction? The truth is, no one knows. Apparently a few years ago only 259 out of 1137 undergraduate courses from Harvard actually required an exam. Although there was no indication of how the students were assessed or if the exams were replaced by another method such as take-home tests, papers, project, and even group presentation. The 21st century education has now looked into a new way of how students learn and what is the best way to assess them. It’s possible those tests aren’t always the best way to examine a student’s knowledge.  Many standard exams ask questions that may never be asked or every come up again in their life. Only time can possibly tell if we are heading in a better direction, but for now we take our chances and evaluate if the outcome has a positive or negative impact on society and the future.

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