UT professors need to prepare students for life beyond the Forty Acres

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Photo Credit: Junie Yoo | Daily Texan Staff

Despite the pandemic fundamentally changing the college experience, students are all pushing forward for the same reason: to get the most out of their education and establish a career. 

However, these days employers look for experience over education. Knowing how to take a test will do little to prepare students to land internships and jobs, not to mention do well in these roles. 

Project-based assessments are a great way to optimize learning at UT. 

Leonard Moore, UT’s vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement, has reinvented the assessments in his History of the Black Power Movement class to be entirely project-based. 

His assessments make sure students understand what’s happening in class, while also exercising their argument-building, creative and technological skills — all important skills to demonstrate in the workplace.

“Very rarely are you going to be in a work environment where you've got to memorize a bunch of stuff (to be tested on),” Moore said. “I like more of an applied model in order for students to not just regurgitate that knowledge back to me, but (where I can) put you in a scenario where you have to apply it.”

As the educational space transitions into the home from the classroom, professors have to be even more mindful of the ways that traditional testing fails to accurately evaluate students. 

Theatre education sophomore Faith Mitchell says that cramming a bunch of information into her head for an exam won’t help her achieve her goal of becoming a teacher, especially as the educational landscape enters uncharted territory. 

“Now that we're doing online school, it's so easy to just kind of do whatever,” Mitchell said. “We're not really applying much.” 

It’s hard to gauge if students are truly learning with traditional testing, especially as professors have to resort to using surveillance software like Proctorio to make sure students don’t cheat on exams. Students have rightfully objected to these services because they invade their privacy and force them to comply with unusually strict anti-cheating guidelines. 

With project-based curriculums, professors and students alike don't have to worry about these hurdles. Additionally, active application of course material through projects will ensure students don't feel tempted to sleepwalk through their courses. 

Brendan Schuetze, educational psychology Ph.D. student, agrees that project-based learning is beneficial to students but worries STEM professors will have a harder time implementing it in their classes. 

“They did have labs and more project-based stuff, but it's harder to do that with social distancing,” Schuetze said. 

Of course, not all classes are conducive to solely project-based learning. There are some skills that students just have to know, and closed-note, proctored exams are sometimes the only way to make sure that students know these basic skills, especially in STEM classes. 

However, there’s no reason why these classes can’t integrate project-based assessments in addition to the traditional examination. 

Take calculus for example. While it may be necessary to administer a 50-question midterm on differential equations, professors can ask their students to create a presentation showcasing investment strategies for a company using what they’ve learned throughout the whole semester for a final class project.

Let's be creative and optimize the current college environment for the best educational experience possible. Let’s implement project-based assessments and truly prepare students to stride across the stage at graduation with the confidence that their professors at UT set them up to succeed.

Roland is a radio-television-film freshman from Houston, Texas.