Midterm season

There’s been a relative paucity of posts lately, and that’s because it’s midterm season. It’s not so much due to the fact that I don’t have time to make posts, but rather that I’ve been pretty tired most of the time and haven’t been mustering up the will to put pen to paper (or rather finger to keyboard).

Anybody interested in the science of education or who has been following the development of Khan Academy has probably heard of mastery learning, where a student only advances to the next level once they have demonstrated proficiency in their current level so that they’re always building on a solid foundation. The usual way of things at university is not like that, though, where the whole class moves along passively for a month and a half and then sinks or swims come midterm time. I can think of a few reasons why this is:

  • Logistically, it’s pretty hard to mark many more tests and divide up classes based on proficiency level in the classic lecture format.
  • Inertia, since the usual method of the professor lecturing for a block of time and then one or two midterms is the lowest energy configuration and pretty much the only method most people are familiar with.

While the usual method might require the least commitment from the instructor and be the easiest to do (sit down, shut up, copy notes), I can’t imagine it’s very interesting to do (it’s certainly not very interesting to observe). Should I ever end up in an academic teaching position, I hope I’ll be able to take the lessons on how to teach well seriously.

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