I must admit that the first few semesters of college was a harrowing experience for me. Coming from an educational background consisting of below average grades and a counterfeit diploma, higher education furnished a number of unpleasant surprises. The lectures were far from straightforward, forcing me to peel away the essential message hidden by superfluous words. The lecturers were unforgiving, and most cumbersome of them all, the never-ending stream of assignments. For a Communications Studies major, I expected a much more relaxed environment.
On a weekly basis, my former classmates and I were hand homework from each and every subject. At times they came in the form of simple questions, later on projects which must be presented and validated by the rest of the class alongside the lecturers, yet the most daunting of them all were the essays; the standard applied to our written works were overwhelming, demanding us to constantly research for as many data as we could, transforming free-time from an actual concept to an illusion. Moreover, the judgments given were shockingly harsh, leading to perhaps a third of my old class to drop out after the first and second semesters. Back then, no matter how much I love to write, I deeply that the workload would decrease at some point, and that the teachers would apply laxer criteria, for what they considered a passable paper.
But since humans have a particular penchant for adaptability, so did my classmates and I. After months of sleep deprivation, countless failures, public humiliation as the flaws of our works were discussed as we stood in front of the class, we began to see our the incessant assignments as merely a part of our daily lives. We stopped groaning when work was handed to us, and the fear of being judged in the harshest manner conceivable in our eyes practically disappeared. Our responses turned from “oh god no,” to “okay, when’s the deadline?” And we’d finish whatever was thrown at us without much complaint, whilst grabbing better and better marks. Unfortunately, as I reached that point, I was forced to switch universities, mainly for financial reasons (for those better acquainted with my blog and myself, they’d know the actual causes, but they are irrelevant to this discussion).
Now I’m attending a different university, complete with a switch in majors. It’s quite similar to my previous one, in the sense that they both belong to the social sciences camp. However, similarities aside, there is a major difference between the two: the rate at which assignments are given. As I had previously explained, the former constantly pumped out work for its students whenever possible, yet the latter would hand them out at a mere monthly basis.
While I do appreciate the excessive free time I now have, I’ve come to realize the issues that stem from minimized student evaluation. Primarily, the absence of an appropriate feedback loop.
Although students may complain about the homework given to them. they may not realize why such tasks are necessary. In other words, that homework allows teachers to better evaluate the levels of understanding reached by each specific pupil. I.e. assignments are one of the educator’s most effective methods of discerning their own efficacy.
When I studied Communications, I had the opportunity to be granted unabating evaluations. They happened each time I went to class, no matter what the subject was. But these days, I would only be aware of my performance after waiting for weeks at best and more often that not, months—all the while having a short six month period for concocting the most appropriate approach for contrasting topics. This is a problem for numerous reasons.
Teachers, lecturers, deans, whoever’s career depends on manipulating the development of other individuals’ cognitive abilities, must pay close attention to the their subjects’ respective abilities; because without knowing how a person can best learn, how would they figure the most effective technique to teach them? And, for the students themselves, knowing their respective merits and flaws is essential for forming an appropriate learning strategy.
Let’s say that a student only knows how well he’s performing once every three moths. By that supposition, it would mean that they could only adjust their approaches after their midterms, give or take. Which, in a worst case scenario, would probably mean that it is far too late for any changes they implement to be meaningful. This sequence of events results in the absence of an indispensable feedback loop between teacher and student; a condition detrimental to both parties.
The straightest way a student can evaluate his own performance is by observing the marks written for him by his teachers, and understanding why those marks are such. A’s of course mean that he is doing quite well, while F’s suggest that he is in dire need of assistance. Minimizing the frequency of these feedbacks would leave a student in the dark, where the only option left for him to assess his capabilities is via guesswork. Which, obviously would lead to wildly varying and inaccurate conclusions, as well as difficulty in discerning whether they should stick by their tactics or drastically change them—the main reason why a teacher’s helping hand is needed.
Now I understand that there are problems inherent in frequently handing out assignments. For the students, it would seem to them that their educators are doing their utmost to eradicate whatever spare time there could have been. As for the teachers, grading and composing the numerous tasks that would undoubtably be needed for this approach would exponentially add to their already long list of responsibilities. However, even with these obstacles, the opportunity for constant evaluation provides benefits that must not be ignored.
For a student to fully grasp how much of a mastery he has over the topics he is currently studying, he would need the uncompromising guidance and support of his teachers. When the asset of frequent evaluation is made available, the likelihood that the student would be able to come up with an effective learning strategy could increase to an astonishing degree; affecting how he composes his essays, absorbs the necessary materials, answers his exams, so on and so forth.
Feedback is crucial for improving a student’s performance. One of the most basic ways to bring it into existence is by conjuring up assignments and grading them, complete with pointers for the pupil’s weaknesses and strengths. The more often these works are given, the better, for then the student would consistently be able to analyze the pluses and minuses of his methods. The extra burden for the teachers is a necessary sacrifice that needs to be endured, should they truly wish for those under their care to be the best that they can be.