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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 17. July 18th, 1973

English Department Change: From Chrysalis to Cocoon?

English Department Change: From Chrysalis to Cocoon?

Dear Sir,

In line with much of the rest of the university, the English Department is preparing to 'go mad' and is considering the introduction of an internal assessment system, along with changes in its basic requirements for students of English. Details as to how this system is to be implemented and managed have not yet come from the department, and because of the way in which departmental policy seems to be shaped (via consensus?) it is likely that department members have no clear ideas about the introduction themselves. For a long time the department has clung to a system whereby students, in order to sit examinations, have been required each term to sit one test, write two essays and regularly attend weekly tutorials.

In certain cases, students labelled as "marginal", are internally assessed, especially if their performance in finals is below the set standard. Otherwise the contribution of this in-term work towards a final exam mark is negligible But to gel into the crazy house, one has to have a ticket, and this is what this large body of unassessed term-work provides. The questions in the examination are the usual re-hash of essay topics, and if the student has done well in this essay work, he/she will have a better chance of passing. The student who for various reasons has written bad or mediocre essays, will find the exam papers harder and consequently, the results will be lower. From an assessment system like this the student only learns one thing: how to sit future exams. If a student cannot learn from the mistakes — dare I say, "committed" during an exam, the learning process will not have been fulfilled; yet every year, thousands of Joseph Ks offer themselves up for trial completely at the mercy of an inaccessible system of valuation. This system, however, is only as inaccessible as we permit it to be.

Yet, the English Department is changing. A proposal put forward to a gathering of staff and students divides the course designated as ENGL III into (a) the literature of the English Renaissance, 50% and (b) tutorial programme, 50%. Internal assessment at last! But is this the only concession the department is prepared to make? Internal assessment is a touchy business. Many students and teachers, apart from regarding internal assessment as an inevitable thing, do not know where they stand in relation to it as a means of evaluating a years work. The department is trying very hard not to make matters too difficult for itself, and of course the student suffers. As to this concession (which will not affect present students of English), the department has not yet told the students where they will fit into the new scheme. Presumably students in the 100, 200 and 300 level courses will not benefit from the system, because it looks as if the new ENGL III students will become the ENGL 200 students. The blind is to be pulled up on the morning very slowly.

Several questions arise out of this intended move: how is the department going to assess students? Will students be assessed on the tutorial programme? Arc students of english able to put forward suggestions as to how this and other considered changes might be implemented?These questions will remain unanswered until somebody (preferably from the English Department) responds to student questions with a list of negotiable points which can serve as a basis for discussion between students and teachers. The way in which past questions have been evaded, and the results of at least one questionnaire lost, seems to suggest that students exist primarily for the benefit of the department — "Such a nusiance, professor, all those ungraduates." "Quite so, quite so." Last year, a small questionnaire was circulated among English students to register opinion for and against the abolition of a 100 level language prerequisite. Unofficially, of the results returned, 70% were in favour of abolishing the language requirement. No one from the department came forward to explain why the results were lost, or why this particular prerequisite was necessary (valid cases for its replacement by history, classics or a novel in translation course have all been made), or why it still exists in the 'new revised edition' (unannotated) of English course requirements. These new requirements (obtain a copy from your friendly local departmental branch) leave no room for alternatives. Internal assessment of the type the department seems ready to foist upon its students, will be no different from the present system. A bad in-class essay, and automatically the pressure of the final exam is increased. A system that would (for a change) give the student some of the benefit of both worlds is outlined here. It is taken and reworded slightly from the course requirements of history 202/1972 (a four credit, half year course) and offers a balanced system of examination and internal assessment.

'To qualify for a final grade students must submit two essays during the course and answer three questions for the three hour exam at the end of the year (or half year). Of the two essays and the three exam answers, the three with the highest marks will make up the final grade. Students who obtain an average of less than 37% for the three examination answers will automatically be failed regardless of their performance during the year.'

This is only one alternative of which students may not have been made aware; an alternative which students should be able to judge for themselves, the merits of. The prospect of change within the department is too good an opportunity for students to miss. Efforts will be made to ensure that the results of the current petition are not lost, so consider lending your support by signing it. Don't let anyone intimidate you into not signing it. If students are ever to have a say in the way courses are to be planned, structured and assessed, now is the time to show that they want to have a say.

P. Kennedy