18.1.11

MAKE THE STAKES HIGHER.  The first two years of college: a waste?
Nearly half of the nation's undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don't make academics a priority, a new report shows.
You think that third party payments and enrollment for its own sake and enabling the high schools' failures might have something to do with it?

A longer version of the article gives reason to question yet another fad.
The study also showed that students who studied alone made more significant gains in learning than those who studied in groups."I'm not surprised at the results," said Stephen G. Emerson, the president of Haverford College in Pennsylvania. "Our very best students don't study in groups. They might work in groups in lab projects. But when they study, they study by themselves."
Group projects: yet another manifestation of the tragedy of the commons.
It is fascinating to see A students put their names on papers that they would never dream of submitting for individual assignments. The most common explanation for those occurrences is that the A students do their portions to their standards, and then they sit back and assume that the rest of the team will do their part.
I envision that the previous sentence will lead some readers to say that such results are not a big deal – I’m the professor; I should grade according to performance. If students submit poor work, they should receive their low grade and sleep in the bed that they made. I agree, but there is also no such thing as a perfect assignment. There are other issues in play.
If one student takes charge of a team project, that student will inevitably contribute more to the project than other students. In turn, professors navigate those waters by building in a peer evaluation system to align the final grade with student effort.
Interesting, also, how relative prices matter.
While many students submit team projects below their individual standards, the collaboration rarely results in F-level work. It takes a real effort to fail a team project because one member usually does not let that happen. Because these projects often pass, they do more to bolster the grades of weaker students than help the stronger students. I have witnessed F’s become D’s and D’s become C’s because of team project performance. Thus, I regrettably pass weaker students onto other professors solely because someone else’s work helped them get through my class.

When I raise the grade inflation issue with others, they tell me that I should weight the project low enough that it cannot cause such a grade enhancement. But in doing that, the lower weighting invites poor performance, and students devote their energy to other assessments that matter more towards their course average (I call this the insanity of weighting something 10%).
The article considers a number of strategies professors might consider to encourage and elicit the right kind of effort.

It helps if headquarters considers students as potential critical thinkers, rather than as a revenue source.

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