Some final exams get creative

Some classes have finals that include writing 60 pages of a novel and landing a lunar module on the moon

· December 9, 2012, 7:51 pm

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While most students at Penn usually associate finals with memorizing facts or churning out a last-minute paper, others have more creative hurdles to jump over to complete their courses.

From imagining hypothetical historical scenarios to designing robot games, finals can vary widely.

Wharton and College sophomore Tony Goo is taking one such class. Mélanie Péron, Goo’s professor for “French Civilization from Beginning to 1789,”asked students to select a point of divergence in French history and imagine the consequences if the alternative had happened.

“Our final project was very interesting, and definitely more enjoyable than a regular final exam,” Goo said. “Rather than memorizing facts, [we] interpret what we know.”

“Above all,” he added, “it was really fun.”

Meanwhile, students in Elizabeth Van Doren’s “Advanced Writing for Children” class were told to create their own versions of the material they had been studying all year and write the first sixty pages of a novel as their final.

“It was a fantastic experience,” College of Liberal and Professional Studies student Adva Biton said of the writing project. “I could let my imagination run free.”

In addition to letting her creativity flow, Biton believes the class gave her exactly the feedback mechanism she needed to succeed in writing the novel.

“If it was a typical final, you go in with what you know, and come out with a grade, without any real explanation of how you got it,” she said. “We have had continual feedback throughout the semester, so I knew my strengths and weaknesses, and all I had to do was execute.”

Engineering and Wharton sophomore Ashwin Amurthur echoed Biton’s sentiments, calling projects instead of final exams “less stressful” because of the additional time and feedback he receives. Enrolled in “An Introduction to Scientific Computing,”Amurthur was tasked with coding a game for his final. His team selected a robot moving through a maze, adding some colorful improvements as they went along.

“We could add as many improvements as we wanted, so we added music and color sensors,” Amurthur said. “It was pretty interesting to have time to figure things out.”

Other games from the class included “Pong” and “Lunar Lander,” in which a player must successfully land a lunar module on the moon.

Non-traditional finals are not restricted to the arts and sciences. Rather than a paper or exam, students enrolled in the Wharton class “Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management” chose a cause to rally support for over the course of the semester.

Wharton and College senior Ling Miao’s team selected the cause of introducing for-credit physical education classes at Penn, just like those at Cornell and Columbia universities. The group got about 300 signatures on their Change.org petition. Other groups selected causes like introducing calorie information at Penn’s dining halls and free printing to be available for students of any school at Huntsman Hall.

“We used what we had learned in the classroom about networks to get people to support our cause,” Miao said. “It was a unique way to use what we had learned in the classroom in a real-world setting.”

“We went out and talked to random people … It was pretty different from anything else I have done for a final,” she added.

Shannon Lundeen’s “Gender and Society” class also asked students to incorporate what they had learned in their classroom in a different way. When College freshman Sabina Spigner’s group wanted to explore how the media influences society’s perception of male virginity, their professor told them to get behind the camera and critique the media and Hollywood from the cutting room floor.

Spigner’s group created a movie from different clips of films that address male virginity, and then put their own interpretation into the movie.

“I don’t give an exam because I have blogging assignments and paper assignments throughout the semester to assess students’… knowledge of the course material,” Lundeen, who teaches the class, said. “[Through the project], students engage as public intellectuals creating new media.”

Spigner added the project was “more engaging” than a final exam or paper.

“This entire semester, we studied how the world affects our perception of gender and sexuality,” Spigner said. “Rather than just studying material, the project forced us to really think outside the box.”

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