Monday, April 25, 2011

In Favor of Prospective Exams

Someone posted this article on "In Socrates' Wake". It seems like it might work better as a secondary or preliminary final.

Last quarter I gave what I'll call a prospective final exam in my introductory ethics sections. The idea here is that though the exam was intended to test the skills, etc., that the students were expected to acquire in the course, they had to display these skills with totally unfamiliar material. (I've been kicking around this idea for a while — see this post from 2008 — though the format differs from what I described there.)
Here's how this worked:

Just a thought on the nature of in-class testing and ethics:

 Do we really want to train our philosophy students to be able to create quick arguments for or against some topic? This seems counter to philosophy. One could study law for this type of education. While it is easy to create an argument for or against in a given ethical framework, it seems this is almost more lawyerly than philosophical. I participated in ethics bowl myself and our team was in the top 10 at nationals. I know that my team members and I, not only used our knowledge and experience of ethical systems to create arguments, but thought and discussed in great detail every aspect of the cases. We were not only trying to win the argument, but come to grips with the philosophical issues deeply embedded in the cases as well as our own approaches. The sort of "on the fly" timed essays, talked about here, seem to negate philosophical thinking rather than encourage it. 
Anyone who can come up with an decent argument in three hours with unfamiliar material is either a genius, overly confident, or only dealing with the issue superficially (most falling into the last case).

 I would hope that in an ethics class, the focus should be on the importance of ethics and promoting the thoughtful consideration of an issue before coming to a decision. 

I do think that this could be a great way of testing a student's ability to apply ethical systems, or timed critical thinking skills. Perhaps this should be used as only part of the final in conjunction with a paper in which the student has time to properly digest all the implications of the issue at hand.

Any thoughts? 

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