Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The One Exam Per Semester Model...

A recent post over at Prawfsblog has some interesting thoughts on the common law school model of grading a student's performance in a semester-long course with only a single exam.

I agree that this is really a strange and likely inaccurate way to gauge a semester's worth of work.  After all, in a 15 week semester, does it really make sense to evaluate the learning that took place in the first several weeks with an exam 3 months later?

That's why each year I've taught Land Planning and Development, I've moved further and further away from this model.

Today, I'll give most of the grade based on the small group project that the students participate in during the course of the semester in which they "mock" develop an actual site here in Montgomery from beginning to end.

Typically, the groups are 3 to 5 people in size and that does present the possibility that someone in the group might not carry their fair share and get a better grade than individually deserved if they are fortunate enough to be grouped with some hard workers.

I've found, though, that this rarely happens because students police themselves internally pretty well by the time they are 2Ls and 3Ls.  Peer pressure can do marvels for getting all the group members to work.

At the same time, I do provide a "safety valve" of sorts where a group member can confidentially complain about the lack of work from another group member.  Fortunately, I've only had this used twice in five years.  Having it there though is a pretty good deterrent for the slackers.

I'll post more thoughts from my approach to the LP&D course as we get started over the next week.  If anyone has any specific questions, feel free to email me at cemerson@faulkner.edu.

--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.


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