Blogs, End Of Semester

Working with final exam cancellations

I am currently proctoring my first final of the semester.  This semester, finals have been particularly erratic.  Over the past week, I worked very hard to get everything situated as well as possible so that this week would run smoothly.  Then, when there was nothing left to do but give and grade exams, the weather decided to throw everything into turmoil.

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Snow

As I mentioned in my previous post Calculus Review, it had snowed here in Richmond the majority of the day.  It came down fairly hard and resulting in enough snow to cover the streets.  While it would not be considered a lot in other areas, there was a general lack of preparation for such an amount, and it has taken a considerable amount of time to get the streets cleared and ready to be driven on.

Because of the snow, VCU was closed yesterday all day and this morning until 10 AM.  If it had been a normal school day, this would have thrown the schedule off slightly.  However, since finals began yesterday, the entire school seems left scrambling to rearrange schedules.  I, for one, have never had to deal with a cancelled or rescheduled final.  It has indeed been a lot of work attempting to get everything put together.

Review Session

The first hurdle I ran into this week was that I had originally scheduled a review session for all of my Calculus classes yesterday at school.  Since the school was closed, this was no longer an option.  Therefore, what were my options.  I cam up with 

  • Go without a review session.
  • Hold the review session at another time.
  • Hold the review session in another venue.

Cancelling

The option to cancel the session was actually most likely to occur. It would have been the easiest option.  I could even push the blame off onto the snow, giving myself an out.  However, the goal was to provide them with more help before the exam, not to fulfill a requirement or to look better.  Therefore, despite having an out, I still wanted to do something for them.

Rescheduling

I then attempted to find another time to have the review session.  My first Calculus exam was scheduled for this morning at 8 AM.  Therefore, if I had not had the review session yesterday, one of my classes would have had to go without.  I could still try to fit one in for my other two sections.  However, my second Calculus exam was scheduled for today at 1.  I would only have 2 hours between exams to try to fit in a review session.  

I thought about this alternative, but this would leave one class with no review and another with no time to use the review to help them study.  This seemed an option barely better than cancelling.  While one class would get the full benefits of the review, the other two would be disadvantaged going into the exam.  In many ways, this seemed even worse as it played favorite among the classes, helping out the class that had the exam scheduled latest.

I was left with no good conventional options.

Different Venue

I, therefore, thought about alternatives outside of school.  If you’ve been following along with the posts, you would have already seen that I decided to go through with an online review session by live streaming through YouTube.  Even though I am on this website regularly, I have never before posted or streamed anything on YouTube.  I was left trying to figure out what I needed to do in order to make this happen.

Luckily, YouTube actually did a great job outlining the process you need to follow in order to get set up.  While there are many advanced options, there was a basic option that allowed for me to essentially just plug and play through my webcam and built in microphone.  The biggest issue I ran into, which you saw in the video, was that I hadn’t realized that the chat would not be viewable from the control center they provide to monitor your stream. 

As I started out, I honestly assumed no one was writing anything, so I began to talk to myself.  Thankfully, a student emailed me and I realized what was happening.  Even though it took a little bit, I was finally able to find some solution to the problem (I pulled the feed up on my phone and checked back regularly). 

If I try an online review session again, I will definitely make changes.  However, despite the difficulties, I am very happy I went through with it.  You can judge for yourself how well it went, but there seemed to be enough interaction from the students to make the attempt worthwhile.  In fact, I feel confident in stating that it was vastly more beneficial than doing nothing.

My Exams

Originally, I thought I had gotten extremely lucky with regard to exams.  I didn’t have any exams scheduled for yesterday.  I thought the streets would get cleared up and back to normal.  However, last night, I received an email (see below) stating that the school would not start until 10 AM today.  Since my first exam started at 8, this meant I would have to reschedule this exam.

Before I even made it to my computer to send out an email detailing what the students would need to do, I already had 5 emails waiting for me.  Since classes had been cancelled the day before, there had already been information circulating as to different options for rescheduling, so I wasn’t completely unaware of what I could do. 

I found the previous link to the updated finals schedule and saw that the exam had been moved to Saturday morning at 8 AM.  While this would clearly not conflict with other classes, I still don’t relish the idea of coming in to school at 8 on a Saturday morning.  I could only imagine how the students felt.  Therefore, I ended up offering that they could take the exam at that time, or during any of my other exams.  I have three other scheduled exams, so by distributing the class among the three, there would be enough seats to accommodate them.  Well, unless they all tried to come to one.

After I sent out my emailing detailing the different options, I actually heard back quickly from everyone via an assignment I had posted through blackboard.  Luckily, there was a nice uniform distribution of what times the students wanted to take the exam.  This included Saturday morning, so, yes, I do have to be in early on Saturday to proctor an exam.

While there was a bit of scrambling to get things together, everything actually fell into place rather quickly after emailing my students.  There was a lot of back and forth, but there wasn’t anyone that couldn’t make at least one of the provided times.

Other Instructor’s Exams

While I was relatively lucky in the rescheduling of my exams, a lot of other teachers were not so lucky.  My class only has 35 students, but the precalculus classes have over 100 students in each section.  From what my colleague told me, the deluge of emails with questions was nearly unbearable.  They are still trying to find times and places for students to take the exams.  Even though they were rescheduled for next week and didn’t conflict with other scheduled finals times, they also fell after everyone had planned to be done.  Student’s and instructors had airfare purchased and plans made for traveling.  The rearrangement to make everything fit has been an utter nightmare.

If they happen to figure everything out in some nice way, I’ll pass the information along.  That way, if you ever find yourself in this situation, you may be able to avoid some of the havoc.  On the other hand, if you have been in this place before, I would also welcome any advice.  Especially if I could pass it along to my colleagues with large lectures.

Conclusion

I know that in today’s post I focused on the many difficulties that arose this week.  If your finals went off without any problems, then you may not feel the information provided is pertinent.  However, just in case you have run into similar issues, or if you do run into them in the future, I thought it was worth sharing the experiences I have had in order to make things a little easier for you.  

I hope you enjoyed the post.  If you did, let me know by liking it below or sharing on Social Media.  If you have been in a similar situation, I would love to here about it.  Please leave a comment below with any story or suggestions that may help.

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