The drop deadline excites and scares me in equal measure. Friday of week six marked that we’re more than halfway there, but I also felt my class schedule lock ominously into place. In terms of our academics, six weeks was supposed to be enough time for us to decide the fate of our schedules. There’s no turning back now and that scares me because I don't think I had the information to make the best decision.
Assuming the standard lecture class with one or two midterms and a final, we’re probably one (or two!) midterms down with maybe about 20% of our grades determined. That leaves a vast majority of the end result unknown. While not knowing the remaining 80% intimidates me, I know it’s unrealistic for the drop deadline to be any later or for midterms to be any earlier. Instead, what we need is more feedback and perhaps more chances to give feedback.
Sure, our midterms indicate how well we’re answering our IDs and what concepts we need to work on. However, they’re only a small part of our grade and we can’t always extrapolate the rest of the quarter from them. While the second midterm or the final could be structurally very similar to the first, the second half can be quite different and in some classes, much more difficult than the first half.
Also, in classes with final projects as opposed to final exams, it’s possible for the project to have nothing to do with the midterm. Application requires knowledge, yes, but the correlation between the two isn’t always the strongest. It’s possible that reading and memorizing psych studies won’t have any impact on writing up your own. Group projects are even more unpredictable since many more variables are thrown in the mix.
Obviously, there will be some unknowns in the second half, but getting feedback on quarter-long activities would greatly help. For example, instead of class participation being a surprise 10% of your grade at the end of the quarter that makes or breaks you, why isn’t it more common to have 5% every half-quarter? If not that, at least a predicted score so you know whether to speak up or show up more, or if you should give others a chance to jump in.
While I feel that college is about taking matters into your own hands and looking out for yourself, I think it’s difficult to ask about grades and an open door might help. Simply knowing that TAs or professors are willing to provide feedback would help students be more assertive about approaching them to ask how they’re doing.
Feedback goes both ways, and students should have the chance to offer mid-quarter feedback as well. As I weighed the pros and cons of one of my classes, I realized that all this information would only be statistically represented as a drop or not drop. The two options my thoughts would be boiled down to don’t say very much, and aren't even numbers that potential students can see.
While some of my concerns could be addressed during a lecture by asking a professor to speak up or repeat something, there are some structural issues that students might feel uncomfortable pointing out. For example, how do you tell your professor that when lectures run over and continue into the next class, we lose the narrative? That they should write keywords on a lecture outline because spelling “phylogeny” is impossible?
Out of the 25 classes I’ve taken at Northwestern, only three of them have offered me a chance to give mid-term feedback. While some students just write “fine” in response to every question, the students who bring up a problem probably aren’t the only ones noticing it. Since these midterm evaluations are so rare, the most common way for students to send a message is to drop the class.
Not only is that method of feedback rather extreme, it also negates the possibility of that student’s grievances ever being brought to light. Students who drop aren’t required to write CTECs and so their grievances go unrecorded and the class continues on. Classes that could be easily improved could remain the most-dropped classes because students are dropping them instead of using an avenue to make them better.
Midterm evaluations could reduce drop rates altogether if they were used as effective channels of communication that lead to actual changes. Even if a class was “fine,” knowing that a professor cares sends a message to students and can enhance the lecture hall atmosphere.
People drop classes for plenty of reasons, but if the reason is the class itself, I think silence doesn’t do either party any good. Both parties should be communicating, whether with words or numbers, and working to make the class a more enjoyable experience before resorting to dropping.