Oral Exams in Symbolic Logic: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic




Logic professors typically assess student progress with a series of in-class quizzes and exams. When logic is taught remotely, as it has been during the Covid-19 Pandemic, testing becomes a special challenge. Some professors turn to proctoring extensions, like Proctorio, to deter and uncover cheating. But, in addition to the technical challenges presented by such apps, there are both “big brother” and inclusiveness concerns. This presentation argues that oral exams can solve the cheating problem, while offering a number of additional benefits. In a one-on-one oral exam in which the professor watches a student work through a surprise derivation, the professor is observing a process, not a finished product. So the professor can see exactly where the student is going wrong. Corrections, then, offer especially valuable lessons, because they are targeted to each student’s personal understanding gap. Though oral exams take a lot of time to administer, the faculty member benefits as well. After seeing several students struggle with the same concept, the professor knows exactly what to emphasize in later classes and in subsequent courses. Moreover, the personal connection forged with each student produces a wave of good will that, in turn, improves the larger class vibe. Math departments routinely use oral exams as part of their assessment structure. But philosophers have been slow to adopt oral exams, which is odd, considering the field’s emphasis on debate, questioning, and other vocal competencies. This presentation details a scaffolded system for offering oral exams in logic that builds upon some of the math literature on oral exams. Like virtual office hours, the oral logic exam is a Covid-era pedagogy that I plan to keep, long after we’re done with this Pandemic.





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