HASS-D finals may change
By George Ipe
The committee that oversees Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Distribution (HASS-D) classes will meet later this fall to discuss possible changes in the final examination policy, according to Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science Philip S. Khoury.
One of the proposed changes would allow professors to give take-home finals in HASS-D subjects, rather than during finals week, Khoury said.
Associate Professor of Literature John Hildebidle, a former member of the committee which devised the core of the HASS-D system, thought that such a change would be a step in the right direction.
He explained that the current system dictates what type of final he must give, rather than let him choose from an array of options. "Being ordered to give a final, I think, is an insult to my ability as a teacher," Hildebidle said.
Various rationales have been offered in defense of HASS-D finals. Khoury said that finals are a good way of reflecting upon a semester of work in a subject. But according to Hildebidle, sitting students down in a room and handing them a blue book is "one of the worst ways to get them to reflect on anything."
Students study more
for science subjects
Some students expressed unwillingness to devote much time to HASS-D finals in late December when they are inundated with work in their math and science classes. They said that studying for HASS-D finals would be last on their priority lists and that studying for math and science finals would come first.
Mark Randall '94 said, "HASS-D finals, by nature, cannot be the comprehensive exams they were intended to be. Reading 50 to 150 pages per week for a term gives too much material to be tested over fairly."
"Although I consider my HASS-Ds to be interesting and worthwhile, come the end of the term, I prioritize my classes . . . and finals in technical classes come first," Randall added.
Rather than having a mechanical requirement for a final exam, Hildebidle argued that "if [the HASS-D overview committee] has a goal in mind, they should articulate the goal, and let the individual instructors figure out a good way to do it." He said he hoped the goal would be to provide a "thoughtful, synthetic overview" of the class.
Khoury said that he is familiar with these arguments, and advocates a more flexible approach to administering the final exams which some professors seem to find so cumbersome. Allowing take-home exams, for instance, might make the idea of a final more palatable to professors.
These take-home finals, Khoury said, "are often more difficult, requiring greater expectations and more work from students. But they allow the student to write papers of a higher quality" than they might have written under the confines of a three hour testing period.
Khoury said he had the greatest confidence that professors will make interesting exams and make use of testing time creatively. Though none of these issues are settled, Khoury warned that the final exams "should not be trivialized" and will count for an appreciable part of the term grade.
Khoury said he "believed in the system," but rather than debating the virtues of a HASS-D final, he expressed concern on how to structurally administer the exam. He said he sympathized with MIT students who do not have the benefit of a reading period which Harvard University and some other schools enjoy.
But he was confident that, given more flexibility, MIT's "ingenious faculty" could devise ways to give meaningful exams which are in the best interest of the students.