What I’ve learned about my learning

I guess I’ve known this for a while now, but final grades always seem to solidify my findings. I’m not a super fan of grades.

First off, just a mini rant: “minus” grades should not exist. They do not help anyone’s grade. In face, they actually subtract GPA points. How is that an accurate measure of anyone’s learning? (If you’re wondering if I received a “minus” grade as a final, yes, I did.)

Now don’t get me wrong- I’ve been on the Dean’s list since freshman year. I like school. I’m not failing anything. I just don’t like how learning is quantified.

My problem is with multiple-choice tests. I’ve never liked them. In this article by a Canadian teacher Joe Bower, his number 5  of “why multiple choice tests suck” is on my list as well.

5. Multiple choice kills the desire to learn. It might not sound like a big deal, but every time my students take a test, they are less likely to enjoy what they learn.

From my experience, any time I knew that the tests were to be in multiple choice format, I would just shut down. Why bother? I didn’t need to actually know the material- I just needed to make the best educated guess out of the 4 or 5 possible answer choices. Then who cared if I didn’t remember it after that? It was the final percentage that got me to the next level, anyway.

Like Joe points out, I am one of those students who is less likely to enjoy what I learn if I’m to be tested via multiple-choice questions. That to me takes out all the fun of learning because the objective is to make the grade, not get some useful information out of the lesson.

Even though they may seem harder, I’ve been a fan of short-answer and essay questions. Knowing that these types of questions will appear on assignments or tests has always motivated me to actually learn. I’ve had to do research, and I’ve found topics of interest to me that maybe I wouldn’t have if I just had to find answers from one chapter in one specific textbook.

Going along with this, I’ve also more enjoyed final papers or projects, as opposed to exams. I’m much more apt to procrastinate studying for an exam because all I care about is taking it and being done. If it’s a final paper though, I’m forced to do research and spend time on it. And chances are, I’ll probably actually learn something new. Tests are just regurgitating stale content.

Another factor I should probably address is that I’m a liberal arts major. My math and science friends I’m sure would completely disagree with me on the issue of standardized tests vs papers, and that’s totally fine. Our disciplines are very different. I would go as far to say, though, that at the upper-level of learning for even my science friends, they may prefer to do an actual project to showcase what they’ve learned, as opposed to just a percentage earned from a scan-tron test.

Because what, really, do grades prove? If you’re a “good student” and “study,” you can make good grades on your test. But did you really learn the material? Do you even care? Is the goal knowledge, or the number?

My numbers are good, but oftentimes I feel the learning process behind them could be so much better. With all that being said, these are my personal conclusions:

1. Large lecture classes with multiple choice exams= no motivation to study or learn. It’s an obligation to be there and a requirement to earn a decent number. Kudos if you do actually take away some good information from the course.

2. Papers= Actual errors- not just standardized ones- are what count against you. I can see what I’ve done wrong and learn to not do it the next time. This feedback is useful to me.

3. Open-ended questions= I either know my stuff or I don’t. No hiding behind an educated guess.

4. At the end of the semester, no matter how much I loved or hated a class, I usually find some good in it, something to take away. Even if I did get a B- because of a multiple choice test.


A Digital Memoir

For my final class project, I’m re-tracing my technological childhood/life, digging back to my family’s first laptop, to having Siri on my iPhone today. Here’s just a little excerpt from it all:

“In the fifth grade in Indiana, we had computer class. Imagine that! We were taught how to type on giant old desktop computers. Our teacher, Mr. Jester, seemed to have a personal vendetta against computer mice, because we were (very strictly) instructed to memorize keyboard shortcuts and were tested on our ability to use the computer without the crutch that was the mouse.

At that point in my life, technology was just being introduced to me. I was still looking up words in the fat red dictionary that my dad had in college, and homework and papers were always handwritten in cursive.

When we moved to Virginia and I started 6th grade at a Catholic school, we had computer class too! Except this time, the computers were newer. The typing software was in the form of a space game, and there were plastic orange “skins” we had to place on the keyboard to prevent cheating on our typing tests. We were taught to never close our documents without ensuring their digital safety through a corny ‘Jesus saves!’ joke.  Classrooms had TVs (with cable!) built in them, and people were starting to get cellphones.”