Adventures in Ethics and Science

Dear inventors,

My personal experience (and what I have heard from the many other academics with whom I communicate) suggests a number of inventions that would sell a bazillion units at colleges and universities world-wide. For your convenience, I list the items that would have the biggest demand first. However, it’s worth noting that even the items at the bottom of the list would make professorial lives significantly better, and that we would gladly dip into the funds currently allocated for recreational reading and hooch to purchase them.

  1. Self-grading exams. (No, not those scantron thingies — good self-marking free-response exams that assign partial credit sensibly and provide useful comments in response to student answers.)
  2. Exams that read themselves aloud. (Even good handwriting can tire the eyes, and poor handwriting even more so.)
  3. Self-assembling spreadsheets. (You write the scores for each part of the exam on the front of the exam and presto! the corresponding spreadsheet for the course is generated on your computer.
  4. Self-alphabetizing exams.
  5. Students who actually pick up their exams and papers after one has gone to the trouble of marking them in a potentially useful way.

Thanks, as always, for your contributions to the betterment of humanity.


Dr. Free-Ride


  1. #1 Rob Knop
    May 23, 2006

    The first four strain the bounds of plausibility.

    But the fifth one– that one makes the others look extremely likely to be invented.


  2. #2 Lab Cat
    May 23, 2006

    If we had an invention for points 1-4 , what would the TAs do?

  3. #3 Dan R.
    May 24, 2006

    For #2 you might considered typed exams (either during class or an overnight “take-home”. However, required laptops by your university might be required first.

  4. #4 Unlearned Hand
    May 24, 2006

    Well, it’s not like TA’s are supposed to grade well or diligently. Some departments look askance at grad students taking their TA responsibilities too seriously – it’s time away from scholarship/research/kissing ass.

    Try word limits (with time allowances for them to plan what those words are). Cuts off the diarhea-of-the-pen that most of the achieving undergrads at universities use. The virtue is it’s easier to grade and the answers are generally higher quality, although the issues you list remain.

  5. #5 Super Sally
    May 26, 2006

    I know we discussed the Standard Method for grading essay exams in your earlier years: Throw them up the stairs and the ones that land highest (or lowest, depending on the grader’s point of view) receive the highest grade, and the rest land to form the normal distribution curve.

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