Editorial: Give students access to Dean’s Date papers and final exams| Feb 28, 2016
It is currently a common practice for instructors not to return Dean’s Date papers or final exams with feedback — or at all. The Board sees no reason why these essays and tests should be treated any differently from those scheduled throughout the course of the semester. In fact, we believe that the habit of ignoring these final assignments both costs students some of their best learning opportunities and sends a message of grading-over-teaching that corrodes Princeton’s educational environment. The Board believes that the University should encourage course instructors to make marked-up Dean’s Date papers or final exams available by the date on which overall course grades are posted online.
In not bothering to return Dean’s Date papers with constructive feedback, instructors send a disheartening message — that these end-of-semester assignments are not intended as learning experiences but are, rather, only useful for satisfying requirements and calculating grades. In some cases, students do not even see the grade they received on the project — it gets absorbed into the overall grade for the course. Dean’s Date papers are very often the most advanced, challenging and cumulative projects in a class, emphasizing independent thought and (in many instances) providing a chance for close student-faculty collaboration: it is in these essays that students invest some of their hardest work, strive to produce original research or reflect upon ways to tie together the major themes of several months’ worth of lectures, discussions and readings. In other words, these are precisely the assignments from which students can grow the most, and yet many undergraduates see nothing of their Dean’s Date or testing-period work after turning it in; they next encounter their projects in the form of a single letter on TigerHub. If the University and its academic departments are serious about teaching to the fullest (not just handing out transcripts), their current approach should change.
The Board recognizes that faculty members and preceptors at Princeton are genuinely and deeply committed to helping their students progress. However, the current system of unreturned end-of-semester assignments incentivizes the quick checking, grading and disposing of these projects. Even the most devoted teachers may, on occasion, unconsciously invest less time and effort if they know that students will never see more than a final grade. The act of typing out comments (which no instructor, however well-intentioned, will do if he or she knows that students will not have access to those comments) can be a vital step in encouraging instructors to think through their critiques and judge work more responsibly. The current practice creates a lack of transparency that is bad for instructors and makes students suspicious that their hard work is not getting the attention it deserves.
It might be argued that many students and instructors are instinctively eager to bring their courses to a close — instructors want to wrap up their workloads and prepare for the next, fast-approaching term, and students, off to enjoy vacation, frequently have little interest in continuing to preoccupy themselves with papers and tests. However, instructors have an obligation to remain committed to their undergraduates’ progress and to honor their students hard work with thoughtful, thorough comments. It is true that many students want to move on after classes have come to a close, but instructors ought to push back against this attitude as best they can: sometimes students need to be reminded that they are not at Princeton just to fulfill requirements towards a degree, but to develop their minds.
Undergraduates come to Princeton to work with some of the best intellects in the world — and to learn from them. Receiving feedback on assignments is crucial: students want to hear how their work measures up in the minds of brilliant, knowledgeable scholars, as well as to know how it can be improved. The very basis of Princeton’s undergraduate experience is weakened if many of the most important assignments students complete are lost in the shuffle or brushed over with little care.
The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-In-Chief.