A second department after sociology announced that it will be replacing its senior exercise with a senior capstone next year. The English department will no longer ask non-honors majors to complete a comprehensive written exam in their senior year.
The faculty made the change in response to a sense that the examination format does not provide a “meaningful culmination” for students, according to Sarah Heidt, associate professor of English and chair of the English department.
Juniper Cruz ’19, an English major, agreed, saying that the exam is something of a “counterintuitive” requirement for the major.
“I think for a long time, a lot of people said, ‘What is the point of having a test for our final when most English majors haven’t taken an exam a day in their Kenyon life?’” she said.
Hannah Anain ’19, another English major, said she is glad to see the department move toward a capstone that will emphasize the strengths of its majors. “I think it’s unfortunate that prior to now, people have been tested in a way that they’ve never been before,” she said. “I think a paper or a presentation makes a lot more sense.”
Although the English faculty has decided to move away from the exam for non-honors majors, it has yet to decide what will replace it. Heidt hopes the capstone will involve a senior symposium or other public presentation of original student work. A symposium, she believes, would help students polish presentation skills and help strengthen a sense of community among English majors.
The department is also considering letting seniors incorporate work that they already complete in their senior seminars into their capstone projects. Currently, the English department’s senior seminar in literature requires students to complete “a research paper of 15-17 pages,” according to the department’s web page. Next year, senior English majors might be able to expand and present that research paper as part of their senior capstone.
Majors with an emphasis in creative writing currently work on a creative project in poetry, fiction or nonfiction instead of a research paper in their senior seminar. They present these projects at an annual reading in the spring, which Heidt cited as inspiration for a potential department-wide symposium.
In past years, English majors could not use work from their senior seminars for the senior exercise because of a College-wide rule that prevented senior exercises from counting for course credit. At a meeting in February, Kenyon faculty decided to roll back that rule and allow seniors to earn credit for work completed for a senior capstone. The English faculty took the decision as an opportunity to revise its approach to the senior capstone, according to Heidt.
The English department also has yet to decide whether to continue requiring written exam for senior majors pursuing honors. At the moment, the English Honors Program requires seniors to complete “a substantial critical essay of approximately 50-80 pages in length” alongside two examinations, one written and one oral, according to the department web page. Anain and Cruz, who both plan to pursue honors next year, hope the English faculty will not require an exam for honors students and put more emphasis on the essay portion of the honors program.
With the decision to change its senior exercise, the English department joins the sociology department in moving from an exam format to a capstone project. Beginning next year, senior sociology majors will publicly present an independent research project instead of completing an oral examination as past seniors have.
The two are likely the first of several departments to change their approaches to the senior exercise in response to the faculty’s decision in February.
Heidt hopes that replacing the written exam will relieve pressure on both faculty, who will no longer have to devote time to plan and write the examination, and students, who will not have to study from a reading list alongside their regular coursework in preparation for the exam.
“It feels to me like a win for everybody,” Heidt said.