Greetings, Salutations, and Current Events Questions on Exams
Greetings, everyone, and thanks to Dan, Dave, and the rest of the Concur-ers for the invite to spend some time guesting over here (and for the warm introduction). I guess, if nothing else, my guest stint will provide some anecdotal data about just how many blog-readers read both Concurring Opinions and PrawfsBlawg, my permanent home…
Anyway, I thought I’d start with a practical question: Whether, and to what extent, folks think that is a good idea to put current-events-based questions on a final exam? Borrowing (shamelessly) from my soon-to-be-former colleague Michael Froomkin, my con law final exam included a Morrison v. Olson-based question about the Office of the Special Counsel (for details on the issue, see Michael’s posts here and especially here).
Leaving aside the merits of this particular question, it strikes me that we as profs have a temptation to write current events-based questions, both because reading the news triggers our own intellectual curiosity, and because it’s a way to keep the substance “fresh” from year-to-year. But are there reasons not to? I consider a couple below the fold:
Reason Not To #1: Sometimes, it’s too obvious. Students read the same newspapers we do (I hope, anyway), and, if they’re paying attention, find the same things interesting. And so, to whatever extent students would be left to guess as to a fictitious fact pattern, here, they can think through the answer beforehand. Moreover, even if only one or two students might prepare for it out of a class of 110, that’s almost more unfair, for it skews the exam toward those more on top of current events.
Reason Not To #2: Sometimes, it’s harder to grade. The example I used this semester might help; as Michael notes, it’s a very close call, at least under extant doctrine, whether there might be a Morrison problem with the Special Counsel statute. If the fact pattern is more deliberately engineered, it might allow students to come to a more definitive answer…
I’m sure there are others, too. There are also fairly obvious reasons, I think, why using current events can be a good idea… First, it helps tie ideas that are somewhat abstract to real-life current events. Second, it helps generate ideas in the first place. Third, in some cases, it may even help us better understand the issues to read a whole bunch of student papers with different answers.
But ultimately, I think I’m on the fence. What do others think?