Professors at Syracuse University are canceling or redesigning midterm exams this semester.
The change comes due to the challenges of online learning and the current Covid-19 pandemic, which some professors believe has placed mounting stress on students who are still adjusting to online learning.
Many Syracuse faculty members saw canceling or redesigning midterms as a way to create an online testing strategy that could facilitate students’ balancing of academic integrity.
Others took it as an opportunity to alleviate stress and anxiety for students.
The Daily Orange, the student newspaper of Syracuse, interviewed Julie Hasenwinkel, a biomedical and chemical engineering professor who decided to cut her classes’ midterm exams.
When classes were in-person, Hasenwinkel usually gave two midterm exams and a final exam in her upper-level class. However, this year, she decided to call them off and in lieu of them, assigned weekly 20-minute quizzes that students complete during class.
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“[The quizzes were] an adaptation that I made so that we didn’t have to manage long exams with some students online and some students in the classroom,” Hasenwinkel told The Daily Orange.
She also plans to cancel her final exam this fall as well, opting to have her students present their semester-long research projects.
Hasenwinkel believes that redesigning her course’s testing schedule was a practical choice, especially since it has alleviated some of the burdens that her students are struggling with this semester.
“I’ve been teaching for a long time, and I do really feel the sense that everyone is more stressed this semester,” she said. “It’s palpable in the classroom, and for students and faculty.”
Hasenwinkel said that she will consider offering alternative testing during the spring semester, which begins January 25 and ends April 30, with final exams taking place from May 3 to May 6.
Another professor, Harriet Brown, who teaches news and digital journalism, told The Daily Orange that she canceled her midterm exam for her online beauty and diversity fashion class. According to Brown, this choice was in the best interest of her students.
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“I just honestly felt like students didn’t need that,” Brown said to The Daily Orange. “Students are struggling hard. I have heard so many stories from students about illnesses, anxiety, depression, family issues, just everything.”
Brown also said that she believes that there are other ways to monitor students’ progress without stressful exams.
Transmedia and Art Photography Professor Laura Heymen, who teaches two studio classes that meet once a week for four hours, usually doesn’t assign traditional exams. Instead, her students are required to fill out a mid-semester assessment through Blackboard, the online learning platform of Syracuse.
Since her classes don’t use traditional exams, Heymen uses this assessment to check in on her students’ progress.
Although the assessment is available this semester, Heymen told The Daily Orange that fewer students are responding to it compared to previous years.
“Students are really stressed out and frustrated, and trying to accommodate that- trying to strike the balance between making sure they’re motivated and trying to recognize when someone is having trouble and be empathetic- that’s a lot of academic labor and emotional labor,” Heyman said.
Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars David Randall told Campus Reform that the decisions are not beneficial for students.
“As a general principle, ‘stress’ is ‘life,’ and enduring life is building character- something universities ought to do,” Randall stated. “Equally in general, universities that cater to the trend to define anything but serenity and joy as a medical condition which requires academic remediation will inevitably further rot their academic standards.”
“To the extent that Syracuse University professors partake in this trend, they further the decline in America’s academic standards,” he continued.
Campus Reform reached out to Syracuse University did not receive a response in time for publication.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @LelaGallery