Monday, October 4, 2010
Across the country, there is growing evidence that final exams — once considered so important that universities named a week after them — are being abandoned or diminished, replaced by take-home tests, papers, projects, or group presentations. Anecdotally, longtime professors say they have been noticing the trend for years. And now, thanks to a recent discussion at Harvard University, there are statistics that make clear just how much the landscape has changed. ...
In the spring term at Harvard last year, only 259 of the 1,137 undergraduate courses had a scheduled final exam, the lowest number since 2002, according to Jay M. Harris, the dean of undergraduate education. ... [T]he low rate of actual scheduled finals at Harvard last spring — just 23% — was considered significant enough to prompt one striking change. For years, final exams in Cambridge were considered a given, and the bureaucratic rules reflected that reality. Courses were simply assumed to include a seated, three-hour final exam; any professor who wished to opt out had to request permission. But that wasn’t happening, Harris said, forcing the registrar’s office to track down professors each semester, only to learn that, no, they were not planning on a final exam. So starting this fall, the onus has been flipped: The university will assume there will be no finals in courses. Any professor who actually wants to hold one will need to say so.