Professors have creative control over midterms, class format

Scott Van Ness, left, and Kylie Crickson, right, discuss his Operations Management course.
Evan Musick | The Scribe
Oct. 19, 2015

Evan Musick
[email protected]

In the fall months, midterms drop on students’ desks like leaves to the pavement.

But not all tests are administered the same. There are different formats such as takehome or online tests. Particularly in the College of Business, multiple formats are practiced.

Scott Van Ness, instructor of operations management in the college, described the layout of his course. He said he breaks it up into three parts. Each section is tested differently and is not comprehensive.

The first test is closed note, closed book. The second is a take home and the third is open book.

“I set the course up, and the test up, to try to hit everybody’s strength. Some people are good at writing, some people are good at taking tests, some people like essay questions,” he said.

“I don’t really like comprehensive tests. I know as a student I didn’t like them.”

Kylie Erickson, junior marketing major, said she enjoys the three-part format of Van Ness’ Fundamentals of Operations Management course.

“I like the format, I really like it,” she said. “I think it’s really helpful because a lot of times, classes are so fast paced.”

“You have to really stay on top of it yourself in a lot of classes, and it makes it harder when you have five (midterms) at once,” she said.

Van Ness also includes a paper and a presentation, which he said is essential at the 3000 level of classes.

“You’ll hit your sweet spot, do well on that, and that’ll carry you through other areas that maybe you’re not so great on,” he said.

He also provides test reviews.

“You build a level of trust as an instructor if you’ve done that, and people appreciate that,” he said.

Van Ness explained there are core concepts and questions that have to be built into a course, but overall, the instructor has the creative ability to choose how many points a test or project is worth. They can also control how they administer the course.

Last spring, the College of Business had a professional excellence in education instructor work with the faculty to make their classes more interesting, relevant and better structured. Van Ness said this was part of a constant effort among faculty to improve their courses.

Tom Duening, associate professor of entrepreneurship, said the style preference for midterms is left up to the professors.

“Any higher education domain, faculty pretty much own their own classroom, and they own the way that they teach,” he said.

Duening said that although professors have a degree of freedom in teaching their courses, professors who teach core courses are encouraged to use the same types of assessments. They have some freedom in how they ask those core questions, but they do have to include the core concepts.

Experience is one of the guiding factors that allows a professor to teach the class in a way they see fit.

“As you get to these upper level courses, you’ve earned your stripes as a faculty member to get up there and teach there, and deliver the goods,” he said.

Duening said once a student gets to upper division classes, they know what to expect. A test is meant to measure what the student has learned, but also to see if the teacher has taught anything.

“I’ve gotten sensitive to that, so I try to be very clear about, you know, right from the beginning, first day of class, I introduce not only sort of ‘this is the way I teach, this is my education philosophy, but this is the way I test,’” he said.

“There’s not going to be any surprises in here. I’m not trying to trip you up, I’m trying to help you learn.”