What is a midterm? – The Tufts Daily | Rare Techy
What is a midterm assessment at Tufts? A paper that gives us a week to write? Is it the blue book exam we take in the middle of the semester? Is the online assessment given periodically throughout the course?
At Tufts, midterms usually seem to last from October to the end of the semester. Students often feel that they are stuck with exams and papers for most of the semester. Each professor has their own philosophy and techniques on how they believe to most successfully assess students. While some opt for written and sit-down exams, others reject this approach and opt for a more creative project to allow students to demonstrate their mastery of the course material.
“[My] Exams are for them [students] They can show what they learned, not what they didn’t learn,” said David Proctor, Distinguished Senior Lecturer in the Department of History.
In his survey courses, the proctor believes that the Blue Book written exam is the most effective way to give students an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding and skills.
“The way I organize my survey courses is to basically divide the course into three sections. So in October, I have what I call an early exam, and in November there is a term exam, and then there is a final exam,” Proctor said. “None of these are cumulative in my courses because I don’t believe pedagogically that cumulative exams really show anything.”
He explained that he wants his students to use each exam as an opportunity to learn for the next time, which is why there are multiple exams throughout the semester.
“From my perspective, waiting until we’re halfway through to give the first exam doesn’t give the students a chance to understand what my expectations are, to understand what my exams are like. “I don’t like putting so much emphasis on one or two items,” Proctor said.
During his 27-year tenure, the proctor experimented with different types of exams, such as a take-home exam; However, he does not see students performing well in these, averaging 8-10 points lower.
“What I find is that if you take an in-class test, it actually forces you to focus a little more, maybe spend a little more time preparing,” Proctor said.
In opposition to the proctor’s emphasis on in-person exams, Calvin “Chip” Gidney, an associate professor in the Elliott Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, prefers to provide regular take-home “quizzes” after every two textbook chapters to assess students.
“Maybe 10 years ago I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that … talked about research suggesting that the best way to test retention in classes … is to go through each one, rather than waiting and trying the four chapters that are tested. Two chapters,” Gidney said. “I even called them quizzes to make the students feel less intimidated.”
Gidney leaves his exams open on canvas for two weeks and allows students to take the quiz as many times as they want. After completing this, students can see what went wrong, but not the correct answer.
No two quizzes are the same, and students can infer from this information if they want to retake the exam. He prefers this method because it has reduced the anxiety and mental health problems students have to endure while taking direct exams.
“Students have told me that because it allows them to study, it allows them to see how well they know, and they know what they need to learn because you can study in between taking it … so it really reduces students’ mental health and anxiety issues related to my class,” Gidney said. Said.
Gidney has also changed the way he tests his students over the years. He changed his syllabus when he noticed that the traditional midterms were not conducive to the welfare of the students.
“When I got to Tufts and started giving the intro course, I very much followed the old, traditional model, we’d have a midterm, we’d have finals, and guys, those were stressful events — stress, stress for the students. TAs have to grade them and deal with their failures,” Gidney said. “That was a lot of information. Students forgot the information. November tests you on what you did in September, right? So it was just a lot to keep in mind.”
Although in most of his upper-level courses, students are tested through written assessments, he explained that in his introductory courses, test-taking is paramount to acquiring the skills necessary to succeed in upper-level courses.
“I want to ensure that students have at least an introductory understanding of the basic concepts and fundamentals of the field. That’s why I do such exam because it is very content focused. It’s very – ‘Can you identify a definition of that? Can you define that,’ said Gidney.
Gidney emphasized that students should be positive about the course material and not under exam pressure.
“I want students to experience success, I want them to experience the joy of learning new things about interesting subjects and topics,” Gidney said. “Especially in the introductory course, I feel like our goal is to get students to understand the basics. [and] Let them fall in love with our discipline of child studies and human development, … the kinds of tests I’ve come up with seem to work well.
Samuel Sommers, professor and chairman of the psychology department, uses a combination of Proctor’s and Gidney’s approaches. He organizes the Introduction to Psychology course with three non-cumulative exams per semester instead of a midterm and a final. Like Professor Gidney, Professor Sommer’s exams are a take-home format.
“We are now doing Psych 1 exams online and open book with canvas exams. The pandemic necessitated it, but as long as the test is structured in a certain way, there are some advantages to doing it that way for a variety of reasons,” Sommers said. “Obviously, you’re doing it online and you’re concerned about academic integrity. So I think you should give a specific type of questions. If you have a bunch of fill-in-the-blank questions, people will Google it, even if you say no or take the test all together. So I think you should try to avoid them.
Barbara Wallace Grossman, professor of theater and performance studies in the Department of Theater Studies, does not give any type of testing, choosing instead to select creative projects that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge.
“I can still remember with trepidation the Blue Book tests I took throughout my college career, I hated them, and I always felt that the Blue Book test was not the best assessment for my students,” Grossman said.
She also sought a way to assess her students without threatening their mental health.
“I’m looking for a way without compromising my standards and without compromising my goals for the course that makes it a human experience that challenges someone but doesn’t overwhelm them,” Grossman said.
This fall, the midterm for her course on imagining the Holocaust on stage and screen was called “Sharing the Suitcase.” In this four-part assignment, students were asked to view a Holocaust survivor’s testimony on the USC Shoah Foundation’s IWitness website, then imagine themselves as survivors and pack a suitcase as if asked by authorities to leave the next day. They had to write and film a four minute monologue as a survivor to submit on canvas along with a 1000 word paper.
Grossman explained that she prefers this assessment method because it allows each student to have more agency.
“Whenever I create a midterm or final project, I always try to create something structured, focused, and purposeful. But where there’s flexibility, students have agency,” Grossman said.
Although professors Proctor, Gidney, Sommers, and Grossman have unique pedagogical philosophies about what the midterm means and how students will perform best on an assessment, they each carefully craft their courses to best benefit their students. For them, creating a midterm that sets students up for the most success is crucial.
“Every faculty member has a slightly different perspective, I think, on points. In my mind no one is necessarily better than anyone else,” Proctor said. “We each do what we think will benefit our students the most. I would say at the end of the day, that’s what matters.