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exams (rant part II)

Monique Reed monique at mail.bio.tamu.edu
Fri Mar 3 18:37:25 EST 2000

>I'm sorry for your plight.  Are your students freshmen or upper >level students?  Liberal arts majors?  Future physicians?  Future >Ph.D.-level botanists?

They are 93 sophomore, junior, and senior students.  Most are wildlife
majors who wish to know nothing about plants and only want to get a
job as a game manager.  (Translation--they like to hunt and that's the
closest major. They just want their C or D so they can graduate.) The
balance are largely biology majors who want to go to med school or do
biochem.  Only a very few begin this course (required in both degree
plans) even open to the idea that plants are interesting.  We parade
the richest spring flora on the continent in front of them and they
yawn. We try to point out the plants that wildlife use, the poisonous
ones, the ones they will run across in their work.  More yawns. We
give them a dedicated and enthusiastic instructor, two bright and
enthusiastic teaching assistants, and one full-time lab coordinator

I doubt one in ten reads the textbook before or after going to class,
and probably the same proportion does any studying farther ahead than
2 days before the exam.  They don't do the review questions and they
don't come to tutorial sections. They're not stupid, they have simply
managed to come through 3 years of college with no study skills, no
ability to follow directions, and no idea that their future jobs will
require that they learn, know, and do things they don't necessarily
want to.  My suggestion that they set aside some time each week to
study and review *even if there's not a test* is met with blank
stares.  THAT is where the disconnect is happening.  They work at
various jobs, they party, they watch TV, they look at nothing but the
old exams, they do the bare minimum in lab, they they do everything
except try to learn the material.

At the end of the semester, we will remind them how little taxonomy
they knew at the start, and some will be glad and surprised at what
they have managed to learn.  They will tell us it was a lot of work
but that they enjoyed it.  Some will even come back a few years down
the line and thank us for setting a high standard.  The rest will
forget every shred of key work, vocabulary, and plent-family
characters on the way to the first kegger.

Monique Reed

> It might help to put together a focus group of 6-8 students from that class with whom you could explore your concerns more fully.  Pizza or Chinese food would be  a help.  Perhaps one of your colleagues or some grad students might want to sit in and facilitate the flow of ideas and try to find where the disconnect is happening.  Does your institution have an
> instructional development center that might help?

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