Father Guido Sarducci – the character played by comedian Don Novello on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s – got some of his biggest laughs with a plan for a Five Minute University. Five years after they leave college, Sarducci noted, most graduates can only remember about five minutes’ worth of all the facts they crammed into their crania to pass exams, so why not cut to the chase? [RR – see the hilarious clip at: [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO8x8eoU3L4]. This riff on higher education still makes Steven Yalisove chuckle, but he knows it contains a measure of truth. A professor of materials science engineering at the University of Michigan, Yalisove, 59, is out to change classroom teaching. He has designed a regimen to help students learn, comprehend, and retain functional knowledge, instead of memorizing quickly forgotten facts. He has mostly eliminated lectures, relying on peer instruction and allowing students to learn from failures, and has all but ditched traditional exams. “Exams are a terrible way to see if someone has learned anything,” he sniffs.
Writing useful comments on students’ work can be a fine art. And for instructors who put a lot of effort into crafting a critique, there’s always a substantial risk students will skip the written feedback and go right to the grade.
When Michael Henderson is grading his students’ final assignments, he likes to skip the written comments for them. Instead of a red pen, Mr. Henderson, a senior lecturer in education at Monash University, in Australia, takes out a video camera. He records a five-minute, unscripted critique for each student. He doesn’t bother editing the videos, even if he says “um” a lot or has to rephrase a sentence or two.