Open note tests

Since the day I started teaching I decided I would make tests completely open-note. I try and design my exams and quizzes to test how you can apply knowledge rather than how many equations you can pack into your brain. Or sometimes I would straight-up leave the equations on an extra sheet. I have nothing against profs requiring memorization since in the field they will sometimes have to apply their knowledge without access to Google, but for me I learned the equations fluidically: they just committed to memory after I used them enough. This is kind of the same reason I’m against multiple choice tests. Multiple choice doesn’t test knowledge. I know not everyone thinks like me, but I do prefer prioritizing comprehension over memorization. With the university deciding now on split classrooms between online and in-person (the students are having split shifts), students will treat them like open note tests anyway. Tests will be 100% administered at home.

The university wants me to use some software that allegedly uses AI to determine if students are cheating by looking at eyes darting around or something and records their screen. I really don’t like this invasion of privacy for my students. So I’m actively fighting against using it and I’ve been told now twice that I’ve been speaking out of turn. I know that if I were a student I wouldn’t want my screen being recorded and my camera on and tracking my face movements. I don’t know who this company is paying off in my administration, but it always bewilders me when these admins or some teachers can’t think of what the students might think. Why are we treating these students like they’re all just not cheating because they’re being watched? I trust that the students I’ve trained personally are ethical students and researchers because I instill these principles. And rather than watching them all the time and letting ‘AI’ determine if they’re cheating, why don’t we make the tests uncheatable? And this can work in non-math-based courses: I’ve made exams that test biological principles that require a thorough understanding of the topics. Or make the tests so dense that the students don’t have time to look things up. Watching them take a test in their personal home doesn’t seem like the answer to me.

“Just” a teacher

Unless you’ve been to grad school (and had a research focus) you don’t realize what exactly a professor does.  When I left industry, the majority of the people thought I was leaving to go teach.  And while, yes, I did partially leave because I want to teach, one of the largest factors (and the majority of my current time spent) is the research.  As a professor, I do research and make time for teaching and service.  And when I was leaving industry, the majority of people still couldn’t grasp that I was leaving to go do awesome research.  They all thought (and most still do) that I was leaving because I couldn’t handle the rigor of a lab and wanted to just teach students.  Most of these people were people that did only an undergrad so they mostly only saw the teaching side of their profs.  Or they went to schools that were more teaching focused.

So when I meet people and mention that I’m an ass prof at University of Phindustry I only get comments about teaching.  Now I don’t give a shit what they think, but I do research and build awesome devices; it’s tough when people focus in on just one part.  And it’s especially tough when they think I have a cushy gig because they think that my entire job consists of me teaching two classes a year.  Now, when I was an undergrad I understood very well that the profs do research, but when I was in high school I did not know that, so I understand that there is this disconnect in what’s done in the tower.  But even when I tell people about the rigors of research and even when there are articles published about my research a lot of people still don’t understand that I’m more than a teacher.

Now, I do love teaching (some classes), and I do love mentoring students (most students), so this isn’t a complaint.  And I like to think I don’t give a shit if they think that I am a hard worker or not.  After all, random people I meet at a party aren’t on my tenure committee, so their opinion about my work ethic doesn’t matter.  I’m conflicted.

Teaching isn’t so bad

When I was a graduate student, one thing I heard a lot of was how much the professors didn’t want to teach; preferring to spend their time on research. And that they would do whatever it took (buying out, complaining a whole lot, etc) to ensure most of their effort was spent on research. So I naturally assumed that teaching was the worst and that I should avoid it at all costs. My first year here I negotiating a zero teaching load for, with only one class/semester until after tenure review. But I came to realize that not only am I great at teaching, but I do enjoy it. I wrote into my grants a buy out, but I think I’ll miss teaching if I exercise this option. I like grading papers, I love the feeling I get when a student grasps a topic they didn’t before, and I love re-learning some of the basics I sometimes forget. It’s all great! Now, it is a time-sink, but I think some people aren’t as busy as they say if I can fit this in with minimal complaining.

What is weird about my past profs complaining is that they were all different ages. It’s not like just the new ones or just the old ones were complaining about teaching; they all were! Except for the occasional older professor who’s research program has widdled down a bunch and teaching is the majority of their work. They love teaching. So why is it so bad? I understand if you have a heavy load and you have research obligations, but most of the complainers only have one class/semester… Am I too stupid to realize that teaching sucks?!