I know this might seem like a click-bait headline or like I have the answer to it, but this is an honest question for my fellow J-folk out there.
The reason I ask is because I heard a number of students grousing in my writing class about a gen ed course they all are taking that requires them to do (what I consider to be) an insane amount of memorization for tests. The exams are between 80 and 120 questions each and are to be completed within two hours. They also allow no aids, such as notes or books.
Since most of my classes are skills-based, I tend to avoid multiple choice questions or exams that go this route. However, since I let the students pick their poison when it comes to in-class exams, we do have a mix of “write this” and “pick this” kinds of questions, including multiple choice. However, I let them have the AP style book and whatever notes and homework I’ve turned back to them. My rationale is that the point of this course is to help you improve your writing/editing/reporting/whatever, so learning from previous successes and failures is par for the course in our field.
However, I have plenty of colleagues who teach large pit classes with more dates and places kinds of stuff who do use the “choose A, B, C or D” kind of questions, some of whom allow notes while others don’t. Is one better than the other? I don’t know. That’s the point of my question here.
Here are a few caveats for the discussion:
- I know some fields need memorization because looking everything up at the time in which the information is needed doesn’t work well. If you’re majoring in a language, fluid speaking, writing and reading are crucial, thus, memorization is at the core of what we do here. Also, when it comes to the medical field, I don’t want to hear my doctor or nurse saying, “I don’t know… Just Google it!”
- I used to be of the “what if you CAN’T look it up” denomination of our field. The idea of quick recall mattered when you didn’t have an AP style book at hand or you couldn’t get to the clip files to look something up. Now, we all carry computers with us that can tell us everything we need. (And if you’re going to make the “What if you don’t have service?” argument, I’d counter with, “You’re probably going to be eaten by the “Hills Have Eyes” people, so not knowing when the Council of Trent happened is probably not a priority.”
- I also used to be of the “You need the basics of our bible” kind of person as well. That meant a lot of AP memorization or at least knowledge of where to go in the book. I still force the kids to read the actual book in early classes so they know where stuff is or what is in there, but now everything is searchable for a reasonable subscription fee on AP. We also have dictionaries online. (It also makes less sense to memorize AP these days, since it seems like AP is changing rules at a maximum volume every year.)
What I’m looking at is the idea of forcing memorization in journalism classes and requiring gen ed classes of our majors that rely on this kind of approach to education. Is this the best path forward for our students? If so, why? If not, what should we do then?
I look forward to your thoughts in the comments or via email.