Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This is my favorite time of year.  I know the song refers to Christmas time, which it is not right now.  Though it does feel a little bit like Christmas.  It is very cold at night and as such there are marshmallows for toasting and parties for hosting… though no mistletoeing… but hearts are definitely glowing… and very soon I will have loved ones near!

But, in all reality, final exam period really is the most wonderful time of year for me.  I love the down time after classes end because I tend to get a lot of projects wrapped up in between proctoring and grading exams.  However, being in Botswana has made me realize something… I am spoiled.  I don’t have my posse of graduate students right down the hall to help with things like grading or coordinating class schedules for the upcoming semester.  Plus, the system is a lot different here, and apparently I don’t like change.  That’s actually not true.  I don’t mind change.  I just don’t like change that requires me to do a lot of extra, unnecessary work to which I am unaccustomed.

Here is how exams (and the extra, unnecessary work) occur:  I’ve already mentioned before that for everything we do here we have a policy in place to assure quality.  First you write your syllabus (or exam or project or whatever) then the entire faculty in your department reviews said assignment, then there is an extremely painful meeting to discuss whether it is appropriate, how it needs to change, etc.  Well, this process becomes even worse when we are talking about giving and grading finals.  For every class I teach I am paired up with a colleague with whom I “share the work.”  But it’s not sharing, it’s doubling the workload.  What this means is that for every exam each of us is responsible for we must both proctor (called invigilation here) the exams, grade the exams and then agree on the final grades.

On Monday my finals-buddy, Biki, gave an exam for his class.  Not only did he report to invigilate the exam, but I also invigilated.  I can understand having a second person in the room.  I mean, what if Biki choked on the coffee he was drinking and needed the Heimlich maneuver?  Thankfully I was there, ready to go.  No choking incident occurred.  But here’s the thing:  Every examination room has a minimum of two classes in there taking a test simultaneously.  They do this in order to make sure no one can sit next to a fellow classmate.  So all the classrooms are set up ahead of time and there is an exam placed at each desk, but they alternate (Tourism test- Math test- Tourism test- Math test…).  This means that the Tourism professor, Biki, and the Math professor are both in the room.  In theory the Math prof could have given him the Heimlich maneuver if necessary.  But instead, Biki and I were both there to invigilate the Tourism exam while the Math professor and his finals-buddy were invigilating the Math exam.  Do you see the redundancy here?  Well, the bummer about this is that I teach two classes and Biki teaches two classes.  So every day this week we have to watch students take a test and wait to save one another’s life.

Let’s fast forward to after the exams are over.  Then I take my exams and grade them while Biki grades his exams.  BUT!  Then Biki and I switch exams.  Then I grade his exams and he grades my exams.  Once that is over he and I meet to ensure we agree on the grades.  After he and I have our pow-wow we must go before the entire departmental faculty, present a report on the exams (i.e. how did they go?, where there any problems?, where there enough seats?, etc) and then explain and justify our grades.  Did I mention everyone else in the department also presents their results to us at the same meeting?  Last semester this meeting was… six hours long!  Not a lie.  The worst part is that if we gave out any failing marks for the final or for the semester we must be able to explain it.  Last semester I gave three Fs in a class of 126 and was grilled for nearly 20 minutes explaining that “I had to give the student a zero on the final!  He didn’t show up to take the test!  Zero attendance at the exam means zero grade.”

So, that is what’s going on in my life right now.  I know a lot of professors out there read my blog so just think how lucky you are that none of your schools have adopted the esteemed Setswana system of quality assurance.  The good thing about invigilating each other’s exams is that there was a funny/awkward/irritating incident at the culmination of Biki’s exam Monday night.  But I’m going to save that story for a separate blog post.  Stay tuned.

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