Change PHY132 Assessment Methods

Change PHY132 Assessment Methods

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John Roberts started this petition to Department of Physics and

This semester, amidst an ongoing pandemic and major alterations to University learning, a novel assessment method has been instituted in the PHY132 course at the University of Toronto. This novel assessment method includes a series of quizzes that involve 6 questions on an image related to a course concept, summing to 80% of our total mark, and a unique method of classwork that involves group annotations of text using a platform known as Perusall. According to Dr. Sealfon, the Professor of this course, these new methods better assess student understanding of material and help to hone critical thinking skills in ways that traditional physics tests and homework do not.

The intent behind these changes, to create a better testing method that captures the diversity of learning styles in students and also hones their critical thinking skills, is completely laudable. However, as Professor Sealfon has taught us, as physics students we must learn to "own our impact" and to know that our impact is different than our intent. This means realizing when an action, no matter how laudable the intent behind it, is having a negative impact on its recipients. As students we would like to hold a discussion on how despite the noble intent behind these assessment methods, they have contributed to a great deal of difficulty and stress in our learning.

While the testing method, involving interrogating real-world images related to course concepts in 6 question quizzes, was intended to create a more solid understanding of course concepts than traditional tests, the evidence seems to indicate the contrary. Averages for the "B" quizzes so far have sat near 60%, and for "A" quizzes around 40%. Though it's hard to compare this course to another, this is a significant drop from averages in PHY131, a very similar course. Of course, slightly lower averages do not necessarily mean that the quizzes are unfair or that they should be scrapped. However, these averages are supplemented by many complaints from students on media such as Reddit, Discord, Ratemyprofessor.com etc. and from communications to class ambassadors. In these complaints, students note that these new quizzes require an inordinate amount of preparation, cause a great deal of stress, and despite this leave students feeling like they do not understand the material very well.

Another notable complaint relates to the course homework. Perusall homework is based on our annotation of the textbook and an accompanying homework sheet.The Perusall system grades annotations automatically and does so based on metrics that assess the quality of annotations submitted. However, this means that rather than students being graded on their understanding of material or on the correctness of their answers, they are graded on how many comments they can type and how many highlights they make. This is especially difficult for students given that these annotations bear little similarity to quiz questions and as such do not serve as good preparation. This lack of homework or classwork preparing students for quizzes has been a very early complaint from students but unfortunately still has not been addressed. Though Team-up questions help in that they involve actual problem solving, they are completely divorced from any connection to the quizzes as they do not involve "interrogating images".

Lastly, many students have reported feeling fatigued due to the large amount of work involved in this course. This course involves 3 hours of lecture a week, and 2 hours of practical. In addition, Perusall homework is noted to take around 90 mins and is assigned for every class, meaning an additional 4.5 hours a week. Team-up homework, though originally an in-class activity, has recently become more of a homework assignment that is done outside of class time and can take 15 minutes per class. Analyzing the images for quizzes, which occur biweekly, is recommended to take about 2 hours. This creates a tremendous burden on students during an online semester that has already been noted for its increased workload.

The intent behind this petition is not to insult a professor's teaching methods or to whine about a difficult course. As students, we are simply looking for a greater dialogue on how this course is assessed. 

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