To continue with the theme of student-professor interactions..
When students are working on a problem set or taking an exam, some will ask the professor or TA: Is this right? (pointing to a particular answer on their assignment or exam).
A variant on this is when as student points to their answer and asks if that answer is sufficient or whether they should write more.
The correct answer is: I'm not going to tell you if it's right or not.
But in reality, I find it difficult to say this without qualifying it a bit. Even though it would be quite reasonable for me to refuse to give a yes-no answer to their question, it always makes me uncomfortable to do so because I've seen the answer, I know whether it is correct or not, and it's hard for me to pass up an opportunity to help the student. It makes me particularly uncomfortable if I see that the answer is wrong and I don't say anything.
But some of the other options aren't necessarily good or fair.
If the answer is correct, I can say "Yes", which may help a student who knows what they are doing but just lacks confidence. That's nice, but is it fair to students who don't ask for this confirmation before handing in the assignment/exam? It is not.
If the answer is not correct, I can say "No", and then the student can try again, perhaps with some hints or other information. From the nature or magnitude of the wrong answer, I can probably discern where the student went off track and give them help to get on track. Again, is this fair to students who don't get this kind of information? Again, no.
Therefore, for problem sets, my general approach is to say "I'm not going to give you a direct answer, but.." and then I either:
- give the student some general questions to think about to see if they understand the logic of the homework question and the problem-solving process; or
- I ask them to rephrase the question so that they ask me about concepts.
That works pretty well for homework assignments, although I have had a few students over the years who repeatedly asked "Is this right?" for every homework assignment, despite my telling them that this question is inappropriate. Do some professors routinely answer this question with a yes or no? Are some students are perpetual optimists, hoping that I will just give in and give a direct answer? Most likely, some lack confidence. In that case, I think it is fair to ask a series of leading questions that will help the student answer the is-this-right question for themselves.
For exams, I tell the students that I will only answer questions involving clarification of the exam question, but some students find my unwillingness to provide syn-exam feedback frustrating, as if I am wasting their time with my inefficient system ("I'm not asking you for the answer. I'm just asking you if this is right.")
10 months ago