When good assignments go bad–or, there really *are* some dumb questions out there

I’ve been working a lot with wikis over the past year or so, which has, in the main, been very successful.  In particular, I’ve been evolving a new way to do class notes, which I’ll post about here sometime soon.

An aspect that’s still “in process” is an attempt to wikify exams: students contribute questions to a question bank over the course of the semester, and edit other students’ questions, until some prearranged date.  I’ve always pledged that if the questions were adequately good, I’d restrict myself to the student-generated questions.  And, usually, I make that exam available online in advance.  (Before people start thinking I’ve lost all sense of standards, my grade distribution in these classes is very close to what it used to be.)  The thinking has been that generating a good exam question is a cognitively richer engagement with the course material than merely cramming for an exam.

And that’s probably true . . . for a *good* question.  But this time, among many other excellent questions, I got this doozy:

What is the comparison between Dracula and the Broadview Anthology of British Literature?

On the one hand, I guess one has to admire the objectivity of this question: Both are published by Broadview; both feature works by different writers; the Anthology is longer, and has a greater diversity of sources.  On the other hand . . .

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2 Responses to When good assignments go bad–or, there really *are* some dumb questions out there

  1. David LaPierre says:

    I suppose if one had incompatible literary interests and wasn’t disinclined to a cheap crack, the answer could be, “They both suck the blood out of you.”

  2. Dance says:

    I like this idea. I have had students submit exam questions, but usually I just use them for in-class practice and talk about what makes a good/bad question, to help familiarize them with the exam. But maybe I’ll try a question-bank wiki.

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