I’ve found by teaching a variety of sociology courses at different levels and at several institutions that the interests of students can vary broadly. One of my committee members, Toby Ten Eyck at Michigan State, once educated me on a valuable approach to determining a student’s interest – ask them. He phrases it like like: “Why are you here?” That’s a difficult question to ask students because you will get honest answers. Then, you have to balance the stated interest with the educational objectives and plight of the university. A healthy balance is critical. Quite often, students will “want an A” and although that is an easy goal to achieve in my courses, I don’t make that ease especially conspicuous.
I think that the objectives in the syllabus should be expected to be fulfilled in all assignments so I don’t feel it necessary to grade on the objectives during the midterm. I find it beneficial to grade on extra-curricular objectives like the ones I will describe now:
It is just easier for me to remember if I have a catchy grouping, like all the elements beginning with the same letter. As a point scheme, I also make that easy to follow: 50 points for each element totaling 200 points, or 20% of the course grade. There are hundreds of ways that I could give examples of assignments based on these criteria, but I will strictly give one today that I used for my SOC 331 Population (Sociology) summer course at Saginaw Valley State University.
- Clarity: Since the midterm is integrated into the process of developing a term paper, a semester long project culminating in a single product worth half the student’s grade, I think it is essential to have a clear understanding of the student’s topic by the midterm. To extend this understanding, I base my evaluation on two criteria:
- Can the student answer: “What are you trying to find out?”
- Can the student then parse the answer into a research question and hypothesis?
- Collection: The final project is essentially divided into 1/2 analysis of prior research and 1/2 new contributions to the field. At the midway point of the semester, students need to be competent in having skills to acquire enough prior literature or data to subsequently analyze when producing the literature review in their final papers. I ask students to complete a simply stated but thorough exercise in obtaining data and resources:
- Can the student locate, cite, and present valid data sources?
- Can the student determine the appropriateness for use of the prior literature?
- Collaboration: Co-authorship is acceptable and normal in the publication of scholarly journal articles. Students are usually surprised when I encourage this practice for the final term paper project. I test their ability to collaborate within the midterm period through an exercise in collaboration.
- Can the student critically discuss the value, or lack thereof, to using prior literature in supporting or negating their hypotheses?
- Is the student able to consider sources presented by another peer and can the student plan to use or exclude the sources in their term paper?
- Consortium: Panel discussions are commonplace in both academic symposiums and professional conferences. I teach students how to confidently and publicly discuss their research progress in terms of the preceding criteria. In a group setting, students will adequately:
- Clarify the topic, research question, and hypotheses
- Convey the method(s) by which prior research data was collected and the sources
- Describe the process of determining the most relevant and valid existing data
- Map the plan for the future progress of the research
The midterm wraps up the first half of the semester that has a focus on prior literature and other perspectives. I then encourage students to move forward by determining their own methods, sample, expected results (hypotheses), and limitations. The end product is a 10-12 page research article or proposal.