Please share your thoughts about the “final” for this course

TO: All students in this course
FROM: Michael Baur
Please use the ‘comments’ function below in order to tell me (providing reasons) what sort of work I should assign as a “final” in this course — e.g., a final paper, a final exam, or something else.   Please note: in making a decision about the “final,” I will follow the principle that “silence implies consent” (so if you are silent, I will assume that you consent to ANY decision that I make about the “final”).

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10 Responses to “Please share your thoughts about the “final” for this course”

  1. John Maldonado Says:

    I would much prefer a paper to an exam, particarly in the format you hinted at in class (a paper connected in some way to the smaller papers we have been/will be doing). Considering the complexity and amount of Kant’s work that we will be covering, a final exam, in my opinion, would not be beneficial for us as students or for you in assessing our overall knowledge of Kant’s work. A multiple choice final would certainly not give an accurate assessment of our grasp of the work; an “essay” formatted final would also put us in a bind, because to try and somehow “summarize” Kant’s arguments is an extremely difficult task to perform in just 2 hours (you said at the beginning of the course that the point of having the short papers to begin with was so that we would not be put in a situation where we would have to try to understand and then explain large chunks of Kant’s critique all at once), and each of his arguments are so complex that one could know them quite well and easily get trapped trying to explain a few arguments sufficiently well enough to prove their understanding that they exhaust the exam period without having explained a sufficient number of his arguments so as to prove that that person, in fact, has a good grasp on his critique as a whole. A final paper connecting our understanding of the smaller topics covered in our short papers would much more easily and sufficiently allow us to express our understanding of each argument in the context of the work as a whole, and would provide you an easier, more accurate picture of our understanding.

    • John Maldonado Says:

      It appears autocorrect has taken some level of poetic license with my language, I meant “particularly,” not “particarly,” my apologies.

    • Allison Cassandra Fitzmorris Says:

      I don’t think that the exam would necessarily be confined to multiple choice. I think that a paper would be stressful, especially as it would be due while we are studying for other finals. I think the structure of Kant’s work lends itself to a short-answer exam format that we would all have a fair shot at. I for one will be swamped with term papers as well and would prefer not to have to worry about an additional essay, especially on something as dense as Kant.

  2. Anthony Vespa Says:

    I agree with John. I’d much prefer to write a paper so I have access to CPR and other related info instead of having to memorize all of the themes and concepts for a timed, written test. As far as time-budgeting goes around finals, I don’t believe that a paper will take any longer to write than studying for a test would. Writing a paper just seems to offer more freedom, as well. And, in my humble opinion, I hate multiple choice exams in philosophy.

  3. Stephen Federowicz Says:

    I also agree with John and Anthony. I think studying for a final on the CPR would be a lot more stressful than writing a paper on a topic.

  4. Robert Nayden Says:

    I think that a written exam would be the best option for a final. I will put my personal bias out on the table: I don’t consider myself to be a good paper writer, and I am terribly good at procrastinating so I’ll probably end up writing any paper the night before it’s due. That being said, I think that many people advocating for a paper also have their own bias of not liking tests or thinking that they are unfair because of some natural bad-test-taking gene.

    Putting these biases aside, I still think we should have a written exam. From our syllabus, “The aim of this course is to achieve an appreciation of, and some facility with, the problems and mode of philosophizing that dictate the arguments of Kant’s CPR.” This is an undergraduate course. None of us are expected to be, or by the end become, experts on Kant. We are expected to have a working knowledge of Kant’s CPR by the end of this course, and I think that a written exam would be the best way to test whether or not we have achieved that.

    Let’s suppose that the final were a paper. We would be given maybe 2-3 weeks to work on it. I don’t even want to imagine the length but to be fair with a broad range let’s say 10-20 pages. This paper would be about a quite specific topic, and let’s be honest, it’ll be about the topic that each of us understands best. We’ll have free access to all sorts of scholarship to better understand this specific topic. We’d be able to talk with Professor Baur and other professors about the topic. If we wanted to do really well on the paper, every opportunity would be open to us. Maybe, and I do mean maybe because I’m not convinced that this is the case, by the end we’d really understand this one topic. If someone is going to do well on this paper, they’re going to have to put a lot of hours in this, unless you’re crazy smart, in which case leave this debate to us mere mortals because it won’t matter either way to you.

    Now let’s take a look at what a written exam would look like. We would sit for a 2 hour exam. I do not propose a multiple choice exam because I think that would be absurd. An essay exam is perfectly reasonable though. I don’t think that it would be easy but fair. Professor Baur would be able to ask questions that require us to make connections and prove that we have an understanding of the most important of the topics that we have discussed in class. We would be forced to be able to discuss the CPR as a whole without being bogged down in the minute details. We certainly wouldn’t be expected to quote the text. It would require us to make the arguments our own in order for us to present them in our own words. You’re concerned about “memorizing” the themes and concepts for the test? Studying for the test should not be about memorizing. Essay tests, especially in a philosophy class, are not about memorized facts. They are concerned with understanding and appropriation of the material. This is something that happens throughout the semester, not during a couple of reading days at the end of the semester. You’re studying should not consist of memorizing; rather, it should be making connections and reviewing the aspects that didn’t make sense the first time around (which, granted, for this class might be a lot, it certainly will be for me).
    The structure of this class will help with that studying. We are required to write 8 short papers about the important topics. We will be able to review those papers which ideally are condensed versions of Kant’s arguments with the addition of broader connections about how this topic relates to the CPR as a whole. With Professor Baur’s comments, these are perfect study guides for a written final. If we write 8, that leaves 5 other topics that Professor Baur considers very important which we would have to review. While these might not be the only things on exam, they would certainly be a good start.

    Concerning John’s objection about not being able to sufficiently explain the arguments in the amount of time even if you know the material very well, I think an important test-taking skill is to realize that a test is not a paper. You don’t have to, and you are not expected to give every detail of an argument, even if you know them all. It’s more important, and sometimes considerably harder, to show that you understand the argument in as few words as possible. The teacher (Professor Baur, I don’t mean to speak for you, but this has been my experience) does not expect you to quote the text word for word, nor does he expect you to fill 13 and a half blue books.

    I’m sorry for writing such a long response, and if you’ve read this far then you deserve the apology. That’s all I have, so I hope you’re convinced.

    • Harry Prieto Says:

      I think a final exam would be better than a final paper. Robert made very good points on his post, so I’m just going to add a couple of observations. First, a final exam is an opportunity to assess how much we really know about Kant’s argument in the CPR. The effort of putting our ideas in order, and expressing our understanding of Kant’s CPR under time constrains, and without notes or books would allow us to see what we know well and what we don’t. A final exam is always instructive as a mental exercise in clarity, conciseness and order. Second, being realistic a good paper on Kant’s CPR is well beyond undergraduate level. Or how many people in the class, save Dr. Baur, can read the text in German?

  5. Anthony Vespa Says:

    Maybe a compromise is possible. What if we were to have the same type of test your talking about, Robert, but as a take-home rather than in-class exam. It would satisfy all of theworries about covering a breadth of topics, ensuring we don’t focus only on a limited selection that we each know best. And, it would satisfy other concerns about the difficulty of studying this kind of material. Thoughts?

    • John Maldonado Says:

      After reading this post, it’s actually surprising that nobody (including myself) thought of a compromise such as this. But I would be perfectly alright with an option like this – as you said Anthony, it’s sort of a best of both worlds, worst of neither type of situation. I think it’s a great idea.

    • Brittany Salas Says:

      I support the take home test option.

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