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Harvard Ditching Final Exams? 371

Posted by timothy
from the love-the-kerning dept.
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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Harvard Ditching Final Exams?

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  • by Kristopeit, M. D. (1892582) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:42PM (#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?
    • by TheKidWho (705796) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:47PM (#33459874)

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

      • by KingAlanI (1270538) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:54PM (#33459928) Homepage Journal

        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: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by 0111 1110 (518466)

          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: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

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

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Reverberant (303566)

            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]

            • 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.

              • by biryokumaru (822262) <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:19PM (#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.
              • by Reverberant (303566) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:37PM (#33460756) Homepage

                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: (Score:3, Funny)

                  by h4rm0ny (722443)

                  the only impediment to attending Harvard is their academic performance.

                  You were really getting my hopes up there, until that last sentence.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Mr. Freeman (933986)
                  "the only impediment to attending Harvard is their academic performance. "

                  Not true. Most colleges deny shitloads of fully qualified applicants because they simply don't have enough room. This isn't an accident, this is intentional. The more students that a school rejects, the better they are. A huge impediment to attending harvard is the fact that they need to be seen as "selective" in order for their diplomas to be given way more weight than they deserve.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        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.

      • by severoon (536737) on Friday September 03, 2010 @01:57AM (#33461762) Journal

        Does anyone know the percentage of Harvard students that graduate cum laude? Magna cum laude? Summa cum laude?

        (Hint: 50% graduate with these "rare" honors.)

        Anyone care to guess what the average GPA is for a Harvard grad?

        Why oh why did I have to go to school somewhere they didn't inflate grades? Studying makes college so much more challenging than it needs to be, apparently.

    • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:09PM (#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?

      • by elwinc (663074) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:29PM (#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.
      • by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Friday September 03, 2010 @01:23AM (#33461650) Homepage

        (even if Med school and Law school are really just post-graduate vocational training).

        This is an interesting portion of your comment. I'm a lawyer, and while law school was less nuts&bolts than you might think, the law school experience was quite a bit different than college. When I look back on it, law school isn't exactly hard, it's just grueling, kind of like walking across Texas in the summer would be. College was a whole lot more fun because the volume of information required to get through was so much smaller. Another interesting thing about law school was the number of unhappy people who were used to sliding easily into A grades, endlessly whining about their C- grades at the end of the first semester.

        Back on topic, I wonder what law school would have been like without finals. Nice profs would give a midterm and final. Most simply gave a final exam at the end of the semester. Talk about performance anxiety -- blow the one test and blow the class. On the other hand, you literally can blow a case with one forgotten question to a key witness (*) so being put on the spot like that was sort of primer for real life.

        (*) It doesn't usually happen, but I cruised to an easy win once after a plaintiff rested (I didn't even have to present my case) because opposing counsel forgot to ask a doctor whether his opinion was expressed on a "more probable than not probable" certainty level. Had he asked just one more question, there would have been an issue for the jury to decide, but because he forgot, my motion to dismiss was granted and the jury sent home. Miss a key magic phrase and you lose. Now that's some serious testing.

      • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Friday September 03, 2010 @03:43AM (#33462160)
        "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 are you basing this on? Let's say you want to be a mechanical engineer. Let's say I design a part for a satellite that's being launched next year. How do you determine whether or not a design I give you will withstand the forces of a launch? What do I use to damp the high frequency vibrations that the optics package won't tolerate during launch?

        These are very real problems that thousands of engineers are actually working on every day. This isn't some stupid thought problem that no one has to deal with. To solve the problem you need to know calculus, mechanics of materials, statics, physics, etc. Where do they teach this info on-the-job? Name a single company that teaches you how to design satellite parts without any knowledge beyond 12th grade and I'll eat my fucking hat.

        People like you assume that every single degree is worthless. Your child, or yourself, got a degree in business, or art, or history, found that no one would pay you thousands of dollars to sit around on your ass critiquing other people's work and came to the nonsense conclusion that EVERY degree is worthless. I mean, your art degree doesn't let you do anything useful, how could an engineering degree be any different? You passed all of your classes by skipping lectures and showing up drunk or stoned to every test, how could an engineering degree be any more difficult to obtain? You fucked the teacher to pass a class, how could a real college be any different?

        Seriously, you need to fucking think for a little bit before deciding that "EVERY DEGREE IS WORTHLESS AND COLLEGE IS AN ENTIRELY BROKEN SYSTEM". I don't think that college is flawless and I DO actually think that there's a huge push for everyone to obtain college degrees regardless of whether or not they need them. However, you cannot assume that because there's a small set of people that have worthless degrees that no one has a real one.
    • by onionman (975962) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:12PM (#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.

      • by imthesponge (621107) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:17PM (#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..

        • by onionman (975962) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:35PM (#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.

          • by imthesponge (621107) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:40PM (#33460318)

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

            • by onionman (975962) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:46PM (#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.

          • by Hadlock (143607) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:02PM (#33460498) Homepage Journal

            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.

            • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:24PM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

            by biryokumaru (822262)
            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.
          • by mysidia (191772) on Friday September 03, 2010 @12:04AM (#33461316)

            Is there even such a thing as a 'classroom' that can properly accomadate 200 students, and not just be a professor in a fishtank talking to the wall?

            Sounds more like a theatre, concert hall, place where attendees of a show might sleep while a suit gives a keynote, presidential address, or a church, than a classroom...

            Professor: This is the gospel according to (book publisher)
            Students: [eyes glazed over] Glory and praise to you oh Calculus
            Professor: [canned speech]
            Professor: The word of Leibnitz
            Students: [barely awake] Thanks be to Math

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by trout007 (975317)
        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 w
      • "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

      • 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 dest
      • by jmerlin (1010641)
        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 g
    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      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... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vux984 (928602)

    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.

    • [citation needed]
      • Re:prove it (Score:5, Interesting)

        by vux984 (928602) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @11:37PM (#33461176)

        "Harvard University is the poster campus for academic prestige - and for grade inflation, even though some of its top officials have warned about grade creep. About 15 percent of Harvard students got a B-plus or better in 1950, according to one study. In 2007, more than half of all Harvard grades were in the A range. Harvard declined to release more current data or officially comment for this article."

        http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2008/10/05/doesnt_anybody_get_a_c_anymore/ [boston.com]

        "Plus, tough grading makes a student less likely to get into graduate school, which could make Harvard look bad in college rankings."

        and also from that article this interesting bit:

        "Fewer than 20% of all college students receive grades below a B-minus, according to a study released this week by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. That hardly seems justified at a time when a third of all college students arrive on campus so unprepared that they need to take at least one remedial course."

        http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/2002/02/08/edtwof2.htm [usatoday.com]

        Or how about a student testimonial:

        "The article reported a record 91% of Harvard University students were awarded honors during the spring graduation. Said one student, Trevor Cox, "I've coasted on far higher grades than I deserve. It's scandalous. You can get very good grades and earn honors, without ever producing quality work."

        http://www.endgradeinflation.org/ [endgradeinflation.org]

        • Re:prove it (Score:5, Funny)

          by Capt'n Hector (650760) on Friday September 03, 2010 @03:39AM (#33462144)
          Anyone who tells you there's grade inflation at Harvard is lying. Put the best students from all of the world in a university, where most work their asses off, all of whom have fantastic educations prior to arriving, and these students are going to get good grades. There's not a single student at Harvard who got an A or an A- (they don't give out A+'s) who didn't deserve it. Granted, it's hard to get a C grade, but that's to be expected considering how fucking amazing these students are. Compare a student who has an "A" average from Harvard to a student who has an "A" average from a state school. They are both probably great students, but which one do you think is better? (Achieving a 4.0 from Harvard is almost unheard-of) How about comparing "B" students? Do you think a B student from Harvard is worse than a B student at another institution. I doubt it. And the "remedial course" you're talking about is probably Expos 10. It's not a remedial course, though most students test out of it. There aren't any other courses one can test out of (there may be department-by-department policies), besides a language, but a first-year language course is hardly "remedial". Honestly, I have no idea what that article you quoted is talking about. That student you quoted? Probably very smart but lazy, and can get by without working very hard. Good for him. Maybe he has very high standards for himself. Most Harvard students do. He was also probably bragging, in some convoluted manner. Again, most Harvard students do. Finally, your statistic on honors is out of date. Far fewer students receive honors now. I did, and I'm damned proud of it.
          • Re:prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

            by vux984 (928602) on Friday September 03, 2010 @04:31AM (#33462362)

            Anyone who tells you there's grade inflation at Harvard is lying.

            Because you said so?

            Harvard administrators said they are inflating grades.
            Harvard professors said they are inflating grades.
            Harvard students said their grades were inflated.

            Various studies have demonstrated this to be true.

            Besides, use some common sense: Harvard has been a highly sought after ivy league school for a few generations... are you really arguing that the class of 2007 are really that much more "fucking amazing" than the class of 1997? Yet the class of 2007 has a lot more A students than any class in the 90s.

            There's not a single student at Harvard who got an A or an A- (they don't give out A+'s) who didn't deserve it. Granted, it's hard to get a C grade, but that's to be expected considering how fucking amazing these students are.

            Many of our politicians - congressmen and senators are harvard alums; do they strike you as particularly erudite? Does 'fucking amazing' leap to your mind? Harvard grads trend towards success because they come often from successful families before they ever enrolled, and they often build invaluable social networks while enrolled. The education itself is certainly good quality but its nothing special, and the students aren't really all that 'fucking amazing' either.

            • Re:prove it (Score:5, Funny)

              by Capt'n Hector (650760) on Friday September 03, 2010 @04:51AM (#33462452)

              Not because I say so, because of the arguments I laid forth in my reply.

              I wonder what percentage of administrators, professors and students at other universities also speak of grade inflation. Maybe less, maybe more, but I don't see why Harvard is getting singled out. You say "various studies have demonstrated this to be true." What studies?

              I actually think the Harvard classes of late are getting even better. 20-30 years ago, they weren't nearly as competitive as they are now. Where is the proof that the class of 2007 has higher grades than the classes of 1990? What about *in comparison to other schools*? This is really the point that matters, not inflation over time. It's really the exchange rate that counts.

              Finally, careful who you call a Harvard alum. I am speaking only about Harvard College, not HBS or the law school. And yes, most of our congressmen and senators are pretty fucking educated, actually.

              • Re:prove it (Score:4, Informative)

                by Marcika (1003625) on Friday September 03, 2010 @07:33AM (#33463026)

                Not because I say so, because of the arguments I laid forth in my reply.

                I wonder what percentage of administrators, professors and students at other universities also speak of grade inflation. Maybe less, maybe more, but I don't see why Harvard is getting singled out. You say "various studies have demonstrated this to be true." What studies?

                Don't be intellectually lazy. If you just google the term, you might find the Wiki page [wikipedia.org] chock full of references -- for the ADHD crowd, here's a page with lots of easy-to-understand charts [gradeinflation.com]

                The conclusion: Grade inflation is massive, even if you try to adjust for purported quality increases by using SAT results. It happened across all private schools (with the notable exception of Princeton, who put in some radical measures to curb it in 2004) as well as most public schools. Harvard is not exceptional.

  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:42PM (#33459848) Homepage Journal

    If only they had 200 more undergraduate-level courses.

    • by antdude (79039)

      Haha, I thought it said 1337 already at first. :D

  • by srothroc (733160) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:48PM (#33459884) Homepage
    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.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:00PM (#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.

    • by blueg3 (192743) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:01PM (#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.

    • 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?
      • by rotide (1015173) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:09PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by imthesponge (621107)

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

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

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by John Hasler (414242)

          Yes. They spend two hours reviewing their work and so find all the silly errors that those who barely finish in time miss.

      • 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.
    • 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.

    • 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?

    • by trout007 (975317)
      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
    • 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, an

  • Missing out (Score:3, Funny)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:57PM (#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 (Score:5, Informative)

    by BBCWatcher (900486) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:01PM (#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.
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:05PM (#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.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:07PM (#33460034) Homepage Journal
    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 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by l3prador (700532)

      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.

      • 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....
        • 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: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by scotty.m (1881826)
        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!
        • 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).

        • by udippel (562132)

          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

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ascari (1400977)
      Oral exam? That would really suck. I mean blow. Never mind.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by williamhb (758070)

      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.

      Unless you videorecord them all (and I'm not sure how many examining professors would like to themselves be recorded as they mark every student every year), it's a bit harder to deal with appeals processes. And these days universities do have to have appeals processes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by KingAlanI (1270538)

      One of my favorite past professors said that he would like to, but he simply doesn't have the time even for a moderately-sized class.
      His exams were atleast really intelligently assembled essay questions though, pressed somewhat for time.

  • 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 te
    • by MrCrassic (994046)
      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 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:30PM (#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.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:38PM (#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? (Score:3, Informative)

    by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:52PM (#33460404) Homepage Journal

    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.

"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.

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