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linden higgins linden at MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU
Mon Nov 17 09:44:55 EST 1997

Sigh,  as I grade what I thought was the easiest exam of the semester for
my non-science majors, and find that the mean score is lower than any other
(one person got 10 points of 100!), this thread really touchs a nerve.
Especially as I anticipate problems with a student who thinks that, as a
graduating senior, I should just let her pass (she has said that "dad the
Doctor" doesn't think my exams are fair).

The good thing is that I also have (amongst the 350 students in my 2
classes) the opera major who thinks that the subjects are "great" and the
exams test "common sense", the fine arts major who sits in the back and
raises his hand to answer most questions, and the students who write e-mail
about how interesting the topics are.  But at times, they cannot compensate
for the negative vibes.

Many of them have never been faced with a course like this - I ask for very
little memorization, the exams are mostly geared at critical reading and
thinking.  I mean, these are non-majors, they don't need (I think) to know
all the steps in cell division.  They do need to be able to read about the
latest pseudo-medical cure-all and recognize that there are no controlled

But the vast majority of them don't seem to recognize that I am trying to
teach them skills rather than facts, and they continuously blow the exams.
When they come in (if they  come in - most don't), the common error is
failure to read carefully.  And how does one teach 300+ 18-20 yr olds to

Not that these problems are related only to non-majors.  I've had majors
drop my other (majors) class because I required that the short answer
questions be answered in full sentences!

As far as the grades being "expected" rather than earned - did anyone else
see the essay by the Atlanta-area physics prof. about this?  It was in a
Newsweek or time over the summer - a copy has been floating around this
dept., and it is really a good summary of the problem.  I really get the
feeling that many of these students - and their parents - seem to feel that
" they pays their money and they gets their As".

And if they don't, it is OUR fault, no matter how rarely they attended
lecture or how little they read.

Linden Higgins

Linden Higgins
Department of Zoology
University of Texas
Austin, TX  78712

telephone:  (512) 471-6905  FAX (512) 471-9651

linden at mail.utexas.edu

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