Thursday, December 15, 2005

 

Snow

I grew up in an area where it snowed far too much. It was great when I was 8 or 9 – I can remember hiding in foxholes in the snow in the front yard – but it got a little annoying as I reached driving age. College was in a different state, also quite snowy.

My adopted home state isn’t quite as severe, but it still gets walloped from time to time. One grad school winter, when I lived in an apartment where the only parking was on the street, we had 15 snowstorms. For each one, we had to move our cars under threat of being towed. After about a dozen storms, I figured out that to tow my car, they’d have to dig it out first. I decided to let them. Liars!

As a cc, we don’t have dorms, so all of our students commute. Faculty and staff also live hither and yon. Our President is blessedly enlightened about prioritizing life and limb over classes, so we have our share of snow days. During the semester, snow days are a blessing.

But then finals hit.

What do you do if you have a snow day (or worse, two) during finals week?

On the one hand, you don’t really want thousands of 19-year-old drivers hurriedly negotiating icy hills while stressing about exams. On the other, you can really throw a monkey wrench into semester reporting, fairness, etc. This year, finals week is right before the Christmas break, so we really can’t add days. Friday the 23rd is the makeup day, which could probably absorb some (but not all) of the fallout of one snow day. Two snow days, and we’re completely SOL.

Can we really reschedule exams into January? Is it reasonable to move exams online, if the courses themselves weren’t online? Is it fair to ask faculty to calculate grades without finals? Is it fair to give some classes (but not all) extra weeks to study?

“Let’s hope it doesn’t snow” doesn’t strike me as a policy.

What does your school do?

Comments:
It's tough that you go right up against Christmas . . .

I've always thought that students earn their grades all semester and it's further reinforced by the registrar's demand that we have grades in only two working hours after the last final is given. (Yes, there is a weekend in there and we know what we spend the weekend doing ...).

I have seen too many students blow off assignments thinking they can make it all up on a final and, on the other hand, I've seen students who have earned As and Bs through CONSISTENT WORK all semester blow it because of nerves on the final.

In your situation, I would not make them make it up. I have been teaching online since 2000 and even students who have been in an online class all semester still have trouble with following directions exactly (since computers don't compute "almost right" on file submission, etc.).

To be fair to other students in different sections of the same class, an instructor could always look and compare to see if their grade would be different without the final for those who did take it and then take into account relevant factors like attendance and consistency of work.

After experiencing my own wreck on the ice (trying to get home BEFORE a storm but not calculating the icy rain), I'm much more understanding of no one risking life and limb just to get to my class for any reason.
 
Great question today! I was wondering yesterday what we were going to do if the campus had to call a snow day, but we didn't. And I don't know quite what happens if we have to during finals, but I'll remember to ask someone who's been here longer.

Here in the Northwoods, state school schedules seem to be somewhat legislated. We can't start before a certain date in the fall, and such. That always seems to push our finals to the 22nd or 23rd (though we have about four days more to turn in grades). So calling a snow day during finals would really mess things up.

We don't tend to call many snow days, in fact, I've only seen one since I've been here. First, folks (other than myself) in the Northwoods seem to be amazingly adept at dealing with snow: roads get cleared with rather surprising rapidity and most people seem to drive sanely and well, especially on icy roads.

Most of our students are either residential or live in a few tightly clustered areas near campus.

Let's hope for a few days of clear weather!

(In my classes, I'd probably change to a take home final if I could, but I'd have to work out the details and make sure everyone had access.)
 
We live in a part of the world where wrestling with huge amounts of snow is a regular activity -- snow days rarely happen even when conditions are frightful and many of our students drive in from "the Valley" which can mean a forty minute drive in the best of weather.

I wish that there was a better snow policy. Heck, a better emergency policy, in general! I was caught by a bomb threat, once, that meant a December exam was rescheduled for a weekend in January. The students performed horribly on that make-up, not because the test was more difficult, but because they'd moved on to the new term and were still a bit rattled from the whole experience.
 
This actually has just happened: Our administration has re-scheduled tomorrow's 8:00 AM finals for 2:00 PM.

Previously, the exam period had ended at 1:00, so at least some students will now need to change travel plans. (Probably not that big a deal, since about 99% of our students live within a 2 hour drive of campus.)
 
Or how about when your city has a transit strike and students who live in the outer boroughs may not be able to get in because nobody has cars?

Snow doesn't stop anything in NYC, but a transit strike sure will.
 
I live in the city that gets more snow than any other city in the lower 48 -- and we have no policy to deal with this. Many professors choose to give their finals EARLIER than the scheduled time, with the idea of using the scheduled time as a backup. But that is all on an individual course-to-course basis ....
 
We almost had a transit strike during finals last year, Uni policy was that you had to be there. Our teaching team arranged to rent a car because we all live about an hour transit ride from campus, and most students live off-campus too. It is snowing like hell here today, supposed to continue all night, not sure if finals are over or not but this is one reason why we hold our midterm in-class; less chance of snow in the first week of December than there is now.
 
My university had this problem yesterday. Their solution? Delaying ths start times of all exams one hour, so as to give students more time to get to the univerity. I think it all worked out. If the weather had been even more severe, they would have cancelled and rescheduled. However, knowing our VP Academic, it would likely take a road ban for that to happen.
 
Several years ago, we had snow during final exams. It was very little snow, but they still closed. Finals for Tuesday and Wednesday were rescheduled for Friday and Saturday. The catch, many students had purchased non-refundable plane tickets leaving Thursday and Friday after their last final. Sometimes they come to me asking to take the final early because they have purchased tickets during finals week, or they want special arrangements becuase they are going to be gone the entire week of Thanksgiving, but didn't check to see if there was an exam then, or some such. I smile and tell them that they made an unwise purchase, and now have a difficult decision to make. However, when the final schedule was posted in September, and the purchased tickets for AFTER the exam date listed in their course syllabus, then it is tougher. We allowed those students to take an incomplete, but that was not really fair to those students who went ahead and took the exams without getting the extra weeks to study. It was not a good solution, particularly since several of my students who got incompletes did not complete them.
 
In the years I've been here, my school has *never* had a snow day, not once. I'm told that no one can remember the last time there was one.

A good back-up policy might be to have "online exams"--if a snow day is called, students are emailed the exam at a designated time and must email it back by a designated time. Of course such exams would end up being open book. Or, if you use WebCT or similar system, exams can be done through the software. Such a policy, naturally, would require faculty to design exams that could accomodate it, which might get some people's backs up. Perhaps one could institute a policy where faculty who *want* to have the option of backup snow day exams can design exams accordingly; those who do not, will have to reschedule exams on their own / next semester / whenever.
 
We have an arcane system by which exams on snow days are rescheduled for late afternoon and evening the following exam day. That means that you could have an exam from 8:45 to 10:45 PM. (Yes, PM!)
 
I thought about this this year, and my solution was pretty much Dr. B's. Since I give out questions in advance and then chose two (so the students still have a choice), I'd just e-mail them to the students and post them on Blackboard AND leave a voice mail with the numbers. The students would have the same amount of time to do the final, and yeah, it would be unproctored, but students who used the book spend so much time looking things up that it hurts them.

The only problem I forsee with this is that some of my students don't have the technology. ANy suggestions for that?
 
If you are in a sitch where you have 3-4 students who don't have access to email and/or a computer at home, one could just call them up and dictate the exam to them.
 
Great thoughts here....I our area is facing the same situation. I think I will just figure out the grades without the final exam. My exam isn't that much a part of the grade. I hope we have school just to avoid all of the drama, though. You just KNOW someone will try to use the weather as an excuse.....like the snow during finals week is the reason they didn't turn in homework the rest of the semester.
 
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