going deep with oral exams

I thought I’d share an interesting coincidence that happened in my standards-based Physical Optics class this past week. It was the last class-day of the semester and I told the students that they could orally assess any standard they’d like. That meant they needed to prepare a single sheet of notes to be projected, and that I would take 10-15 minutes with each person asking them to provide further details about various aspects of the standard.

First, the bad news: only four students showed up. There are only seven in the class, but still! Two of them had to be there because they slept in the classroom after pulling an all-nighter.

Second, the weird news: All four chose the same standard. It was “I can explain the Mathematica approach to solving for the fields involved in multiple parallel interfaces.” That meant that they got to watch three others assess the same standard they were going to do.

Finally, the good news: It was really interesting!

When the first student got up (I let them go in whatever order they want), I heard some giggling from the rest as they realized that they all did the same one. I said to the first student that he was lucky, because the questions were likely to get harder as the class went on. The others kind of groaned at that, but the whole process turned out to be a cool learning experience. It also helped that they basically all nailed it, eventually all earning a 4, or “braggable,” on my scale.

With the first student, I pulled one or two punches to save for the next students. But then I realized that there was always more I could ask about. By the fourth student, we were off and running on tangents. I think my friend Joss Ives would really appreciate how we explored the sythesis of that standard with others from several other chapters. By the end, all the students and I were engaged in a fun discussion of the physics of the main situation (multiple parallel interfaces), but also looking into the various connections with just about everything else we studied this term.

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in physics, sbar, sbg, teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to going deep with oral exams

  1. Joss Ives says:

    I love it Andy. After using oral exams for my first time this past term, I can really see the potential for synthesis that naturally comes in when you start asking the follow-up questions.

    Can you remind me what you get them to put on their projected sheet of notes? I seem to recall that you got them to work out a problem.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I really let them put down anything they like. They can work a related problem, or put down the major points of the derivation involved.

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