28 November, 2006

Student incoherence

I’ve just finished marking some assessed practicals. Personally, I’ve yet to be convinced that formally assessing an exercise where they have three hours to wheedle the answers out of you has much educational value – I’d much rather use the class time to properly consolidate important concepts and then test it with an out-of-class exercise - but hey, I’m not in charge of teaching.

The good news for this year is that, on the whole, the marks were pretty good. Whether this is due to (a) smarter students, (b) A clearer idea of the set task (I’d rewritten the rather opaque set of instructions I inherited last year) or (c) I’d confused them less in lectures, is unclear, but hopefully I can justifiably take some of the credit.

However, a couple of things perplexed or annoyed me. Firstly, the Oceanography students (whose reasons for doing a tectonics course somewhat escape me) scored significantly higher than the Geology/Geophysics students. Perhaps my suspicion that the more sensible geology students prefer to go to proper geology departments has some merit. Secondly, the most annoying aspect of marking this year was the complete disorganisation of the submitted work. Almost universally, the relevant discussion and working for the individual questions were not collated in a sensible order, but scattered randomly throughout the submissions, making it very easy to miss things. It’s a good thing for the students that I was conscientious about checking through a second time when adding up the marks.

I didn’t actually penalise anyone for this, and I’m thinking that maybe I should have –being able to properly articulate your answers is almost as important as being able to produce them in the first place. My worry is that this work was produced under no time constraint, which doesn’t auger well for the exams after Christmas.


roadsofstone said...

Ah - takes me back to my teaching days ! It's interesting, as you say and imply, that neither 'lecturing' nor even 'studying' are specifically taught at university.

Neither is 'researching' even acknowledged as a skillset, although it's frequently reviewed for its quality.

All three are presumably the main functions of a tertiary educational institution, so one might have thought it worth the effort to get them right. But then, when you look at the results of teaching directives in schools, maybe it's true that the haphazard approach does work best after all ...

I enjoyed your translations of scientific English, too.
'Very precise' (= broadly and uncannily correct).

Lab Lemming said...

Wasn't oceanography responsible for finding all the direct evidence for plate tectonics in the first place? After all, most tectonics goes on in the oceans. Continents just ride along and bump into each other every now and then.

postblogger said...

My happiest memory of teaching practicals is when the lecturer in charge left one year. When I went to the Faculty office to check who he'd nominated as his successor in charge of the first year physiology practicals, I found out it was me! That meant that I was in charge of signing my own pay claims for a year, which was, frankly, a temptation too far for the cash-strapped PhD student that I was...