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  1. #1
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    Default Shmoop Contemporary Lit: Don't bother, even if you are a literature master

    Let me preface this by saying I am an avid reader and a published writer, and I'd already read much of the literature listed on the syllabus for the course, and even taken classes where a couple of the text were analyzed and interpreted.

    Don't take this course.

    I had previous experience with Shmoop. I took, liked, and passed the Modern European History course. I thought I knew what I was getting into with Contemporary Lit. I was very wrong.

    There's nothing wrong with the material itself. If you were taking the course to explore literature and broaden your understanding, I'd say go for it.

    If, however, your goal is to earn credit, don't bother.

    The problem lies in the unit tests. The questions are both ambiguous and arbitrary. Quite literally, you will not find even hints of an answer for many of them, no matter how hard you study the source material or the study material provided by Shmoop. I'm going to give an example:

    1. In Maus, how does Art Spiegelman's early comic Prisoner on the Hell Planet function as part of the Holocaust archive?

    A) Prisoner on the Hell Planet is part of the Holocaust archive because it shows the ways in which the Holocaust affected the children of survivors as well.
    B) Prisoner on the Hell Planet bears witness to Anja's Holocaust-related suicide, another aspect of the genocide perpetrated by Hitler.
    C) Prisoner on the Hell Planet shows the ways in which survivors often blame their children for their misery after leaving the camps.
    D) Prisoner on the Hell Planet corroborates Vladek's story of Anja's suicide, making it useful as evidence of the truth of his narrative.
    Here's the deal. You can search all day for a correct answer (I did) and you won't find one. Because there is no "correct" answer; not in the source text and not anywhere in the Shmoop website. Any of these answers could be correct; you could make a case for each (I did) and against each (I did) (yes, I was that angry/annoyed).

    80% of the unit test questions suffer from this ambiguity issue. These kinds of questions should be answered in essay format, not multiple choice, since saying one answer is definitely right where another is definitely wrong is just nonsense.

    I've sent an email to Deb Tennen, Shmoop's Chief Content Officer. I'll also be writing to ACE, urging them to revoke credit-bearing status for this course until it is revised.
    Left to complete (BALS Humanities):

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  2. #2
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Notgodot View Post
    Here's the deal. You can search all day for a correct answer (I did) and you won't find one. Because there is no "correct" answer; not in the source text and not anywhere in the Shmoop website. Any of these answers could be correct; you could make a case for each (I did) and against each (I did) (yes, I was that angry/annoyed).

    80% of the unit test questions suffer from this ambiguity issue. These kinds of questions should be answered in essay format, not multiple choice, since saying one answer is definitely right where another is definitely wrong is just nonsense.

    I've sent an email to Deb Tennen, Shmoop's Chief Content Officer. I'll also be writing to ACE, urging them to revoke credit-bearing status for this course until it is revised.
    Wow. Just wow.

    That ambiguity would drive me crazy too and makes zero sense. I thought the history courses were bad enough, but this one sounds terrible.

    Good for you for taking time to give appropriate feedback and possibly make a difference for the better!!
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Notgodot View Post
    ...I'll also be writing to ACE, urging them to revoke credit-bearing status for this course until it is revised.
    that seems a little harsh

    I'm sure if ambiguity were a criteria a lot of brick & mortar courses would lose their credit too

    you sound like someone who might be qualified to judge a course's content, but I don't think the course should lose its ACE accreditation just because you had a horrible experience

    it sounds like you deserve your money back from Shmoop, but that's all


    Quote Originally Posted by Notgodot View Post
    ...
    These kinds of questions should be answered in essay format,.
    well wouldn't that make them incredibly more difficult to grade ?

    sure, you could lay out your reasons and evidence to support your answer
    but then somebody's got to read all that instead of just having an automated system for checking multiple choice questions

    it would take so much longer to get results back for essays
    and they would obviously have to raise the cost of the course because now they have to pay somebody to read and check each essay
    and then you'd also have to have proper grammar, sentence and paragraph structure and punctuation or you'd lose points for that

  4. #4
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    Default

    I feel/felt your pain. There were MANY questions throughout the History courses that I felt had multiple answers. I'm pretty sure I wrote something about it on this forum. The way they set up their courses and tests for credit is ridiculous to me. I could not wait to finish the 9 History credits and move on from Shmoop forever. It really sucks because the price can't be beat, however the setup is the worst.
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  5. #5
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    Default

    that seems a little harsh

    I'm sure if ambiguity were a criteria a lot of brick & mortar courses would lose their credit too
    But at a brick and mortar school, you could actually ask the instructor questions. Maybe it is a little harsh, I'm certainly annoyed. But I don't want to see anyone else trying, and failing, to pass this class until the issues are resolved.

    Regarding essay questions being more expensive, etc, you're absolutely correct. I suspect these *were* originally essay questions that were re-purposed into multiple choice questions. The questions should fit the format, (multiple choice) and they don't. If they want to keep the questions as-is, they need to revisit their study materials. If they want to keep their study materials as-is, they need to revise their questions.
    Left to complete (BALS Humanities):

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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by ndelcollo View Post
    I feel/felt your pain. There were MANY questions throughout the History courses that I felt had multiple answers. I'm pretty sure I wrote something about it on this forum. The way they set up their courses and tests for credit is ridiculous to me. I could not wait to finish the 9 History credits and move on from Shmoop forever. It really sucks because the price can't be beat, however the setup is the worst.
    I took the Modern European History course, and I could usually at least find a hint of what the correct answer was if I was in doubt. That's just not the case for most of the Contemporary Lit unit questions. It's far, far worse.
    Left to complete (BALS Humanities):

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  7. #7
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    I will just throw this out there- if you know the Bible, you might be able to quickly push through Shmoop's Bible as Literature course. I was able to. I didn't spend any time on the lessons. During the Unit tests I would look up maybe 3 questions.
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  8. #8
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by ndelcollo View Post
    I feel/felt your pain. There were MANY questions throughout the History courses that I felt had multiple answers. I'm pretty sure I wrote something about it on this forum. The way they set up their courses and tests for credit is ridiculous to me. I could not wait to finish the 9 History credits and move on from Shmoop forever. It really sucks because the price can't be beat, however the setup is the worst.
    I agree I was so happy to be done with Shmoop, I did try and plow through a Lit course just to see how it would transfer in to TESU and toss the info up on this forum, but I just couldn't get it done. I read through a whole chapter and studied it and managed like a 25% on the first chapter test. So I moved onto a shorter course, did better on the first test but still not in passing range. Ultimately I didn't think I had enough time left on my subscription to get the course done so gave up on it.
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  9. #9
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    I say good on you for going to such lengths. I feel almost exactly the same way about StraighterLine's "Fundamentals of IT" course, though in this case it's that the material is just plain wrong -- it's not usually vague -- though much of it sounded like it was written by someone for whom English was a second or third language. Beyond warning people away from it both here and elsewhere and opening a ticket with SL, I haven't done anything more.

    I considered asking ACE to revoke or review the material again but decided against it, mainly because I just couldn't be bothered. At least you *can* pass it if you study their material, the main problems are that their material is just objectively wrong, and that much of it reads as though the writer is not fluent in English.
    TESU BSBA/GenMgmt, Graduation approved for March 2017
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  10. #10
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    Ready for your CLEP exam?

    Study for your exam using the same CLEP Study Guides used by thousands of members of this discussion forum!


    Just to update, I've received an email from Shmoop stating that they are reviewing the unit questions. Perhaps something will come of it. In the mean time, here are three more examples of why you should avoid this course:

    Question Analysis for Unit 2, Questions 2, 3 and 4:

    2. In Maus, Vladek says of his wife Anja that “almost nobody could write Polish like she wrote.” How do Anja's letters function narratively to explore the legacy of the Holocaust in the Spiegelman family?

    A) Unlike Vladek's story, Anja's would have enabled Spiegelman to see the poetry of suffering through his mother's beautiful Polish.

    B) By reading his mother's letters, Spiegelman would have been able to attain an insight into her experience of the Holocaust.

    C) Even though Anja survived the Holocaust, her letters didn't, so in a way her beautiful Polish is also a victim of genocide.

    D) Even though she lived through the camps, Anja's letters are the central loss around which Vladek's survival story is structured.

    A, B and C are each objectively true, and a case can be made for each being the “correct” answer. To answer this question in a way that would allow the examinee to attain credit, the examinee would have to be able to read the mind of the author of either the test or the text. Neither the text nor the study materials provided by Shmoop offer even a hint of which answer might be “more” correct. Absent that information, the test-taker's opinion is as valid as the test-writer's opinion.

    3. In Maus which how [typographical error in the text] does Spiegelman use Vladek's exercise bike as both a narrative and symbolic element?

    A) The bike shows Vladek's continued commitment to survival, but since it is a stationary bike, it symbolizes the inevitability of his death.

    B) The bike shows Vladek's energy and will to live, acting as a symbol for the way that telling his story drains him.

    C) The bike show Vladeks commitment to health. It acts as a symbolic rodent wheel, showing the futility of Vladek's manic energy.

    D) The bike show's Vladek's need for constant movement, but symbolizes the way that telling his story keeps him trapped in his past.

    Each of these answers could be considered both true and false. Vladek is committed to survival, he does have energy and a will to live, he is committed to health, and others remark that he is always moving, doing something. However, the determination of the symbolism of the stationary bike is entirely open to the reader's interpretation, especially since no Shmoop material addresses the issue, and the author never explicitly addresses it. Any, all or none of these may be the “correct” answer.

    4. In Maus, why does Spiegelman portray the family photos as mice, but include the real portrait of his father from after the war?

    A) The photograph of Vladek in the final pages of Maus underscores Spiegelman's effort throughout the novel to portray his father as a fully formed person, even as he draws him, and every other Jew, as a mouse.

    B) Spiegelman's drawing of his dead relatives as mice emphasizes the degree to which, for him, they are all trapped within the story of the Holocaust, with no other real context for their lives.

    C) Spiegelman's portrayal of the family photos as mice emphasizes the way in which the dead family members remain abstract for Art, who never knew them, while as a survivor his father is a real human being.

    D) Spiegelman portrays the family photos as mice in keeping with the style of the book, while the portrait of his father provides an opportunity to show a concentration inmate as he would really have looked in Auschwitz.

    Answers A, B and C are each equally valid, while D is not, as the photo in question was staged and taken after the camp's liberation. The first three answers are equally valid because in order to choose between them, the test taker would require further information from the text or study materials. Absent such information, The test-taker's opinion is just as valid as the person who devised the questions in the first place. In such a case, it would be difficult for Shmoop to say, with a straight face, that A, B or C is the “correct” answer.
    Left to complete (BALS Humanities):

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    The mind is willing, but the wallet is weak.

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