Professors have finals stressors

By Caitlin Kasunich

‘ ‘ ‘ How dare that professor assign you that essay during finals week. Don’t they understand… ‘ ‘ ‘ How dare that professor assign you that essay during finals week. Don’t they understand how much work you have? ‘ ‘ ‘ Actually, they do. ‘ ‘ ‘ Many Pitt professors find themselves doing as much work, if not more, than the students in their classes. ‘ ‘ ‘ Pitt graduate student Andrea Applegate, who teaches a seminar in composition class in the English department this term, said she will have a series of portfolios, written by each of her 19 students, to read and assess during finals week.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ These portfolios are made up of three four-to-six-page essays selected by the student from his or her body of work, an exercise from the class and a brief retrospective essay discussing the development of the student’s writing over the course of the term. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Once I receive the portfolios, I’ll need to read through a little more than 300 pages of work, some of it familiar but mostly revised,’ said Applegate. ‘That’s the first step, and it has taken me between eight and 10 hours in the past.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Next, Applegate has to take a close look at the midterm range and the attendance in her class, as well as the retrospective essay of each student. Although she has a rough rubric and the course statement nearby, Applegate doesn’t use a quantitative method to determine her students’ grades. ‘ ‘ ‘ Instead, she gives each student a provisional grade by giving respective weights to his or her attendance, participation and engagement demonstrated in the portfolio, which takes about two hours. ‘ ‘ ‘ Finally, she puts the total number of each letter grade side by side to find out if she has given out reasonable amounts of each grade. If necessary, the last thing she must do is post the grades online, which generally takes very little time. ‘ ‘ ‘ Although the grading process can be very tedious for professors during finals week, Applegate said that she cannot imagine using a Scantron test to assess the work of a composition student. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘The quality and development of the work is far too complex to assess quantitatively,’ she said. ‘Having closely followed the decisions of each of my students in their essays and thought a lot about their writing, it seems only natural to reflect on the semester’s work in the same way.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Similarly, Valerie Oke, an assistant professor in the biological sciences department at Pitt who teaches microbiology and genetics, said that it will take her approximately 10 to 12 hours of solid grading over a two- to three-day period to get through students’ final exams. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘What makes a big difference is when the final is,’ said Oke. ‘If you have a final on that last exam period on Saturday, it’s pretty tight to get all of the grading done and be able to generate scores.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Half of the points for Oke’s microbiology final exam come from multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions, while the other half of the points come from short-answer questions. The short-answer questions are the most time consuming, because Oke has to read each answer very carefully and distribute partial credit for some students’ answers. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘You can find yourself going in circles in order to make partial credit fair, so that can take a long time,’ said Oke. ‘There also might be a problem with how you worded a question, or you discovered a major misconception … you didn’t know the students had. These are the ones that are tricky to deal with and take even longer.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Additionally, although multiple choice questions have one right answer, Oke said that students in her classes generally do better on short-answer questions than on the multiple-choice section, because it partly all comes down to students having more flexibility to show what they know.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Some of her students, however, prefer multiple-choice questions on examinations, so this gives her a chance to cover a few more topics in class. But she never allows multiple-choice sections to constitute more than 20 percent of the examination, she said. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I never even considered doing an all multiple-choice [test],’ said Oke. ‘I went to a small school, and we just didn’t use Scantrons, because they didn’t exist. It just depends on the type of course.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ In Oke’s genetics class, for example, all multiple-choice tests are never an option since the class is all about problem-solving, she said. ‘ ‘ ‘ Besides grading final examinations, however, Oke also spends her time during finals week catching up on things that she did not have time to do earlier on in the semester, including writing letters of recommendation for students, writing papers and completing other departmental business. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘It’s all about time management,’ said Oke.