March 30, 2006
What do teachers and students expect of each other?
The discussion on faculty-student expectation mismatches got me thinking.
I post these two question in order to get some responses from readers that I can use with UCITE's programs
1. If a teacher is giving 100% effort to teaching a course, what would that look like? In other words, what would that teacher's behavior be like that would make you (as a student) say "S/he is really committed to teaching this course."
2. If a student is giving 100% effort towards a course, what would that look like? In other words, what would a student's behavior be like that would make you (as a teacher or fellow student) say "S/he is really committed to learning in this course."
Obviously, students may have a sharper perspective on the first question and teachers on the second but don't feel restricted. We have all been teachers and students in some form, so feel free to answer either one or both.
The more concrete the suggestions, the more helpful they are. A suggestion like "The teacher grades and returns papers promptly" is more useful as a marker than "The teacher really cares". And "The student never misses class" is more helpful as a marker than "The student is enthusiastic."
March 24, 2006
Is it ok for everyone to get an A in a course?
At the faculty-student forum yesterday, the conversation got most animated when one faculty panel member said that it would not be a good thing if everyone got an A in a course because that would mean that the course was too easy and the grade would not mean much. Hence he had a policy that ensured that about 30-40% of students got As and another 30-40% got Bs. He said that if all the students at Case graduated with GPA 4.0, then employers might not think much of Case and this would hurt the students. He said that the standards should be such that everyone getting As would not occur.
Some students disagreed They felt that the benchmarks should be set in advance and if all students met the criteria, then they should get that grade, irrespective of how many others also achieved. They asked why should a student get a low grade just because he or she happened to enroll in a class with a high-achieving group of students. Or conversely, why should that same student get a high grade simply from being with a lower achieving group? After all, it was the same student who had learned the same things.
Everyone agreed that there should not be a fixed quota of grades or grading according to a strict curve so that some students would fail no matter what. The debate really centered on whether there should be at least some informal limits on the number of high grades (As and Bs) awarded.
It was a good, but inconclusive, discussion.
March 22, 2006
Faculty-student forum: Professor expectations of students and vice versa
Each semester, UCITE joins with the Office of Greek Life to sponsor a faculty-student forum, where students and faculty get together to discuss an issue of common interest. This year's event focuses on the frequent miscommunication between faculty and students about what is expected from them in a course.
The forum will take place on Thursday, March 23 from 11:30-1:00pm in Clapp 108. (Clapp is the building opposite Rainbow Babies Hospital on Adelbert Road. You enter through the Hovorka Atrium and turn left.) The format will be interactive with questions posed to the panelists from members of the audience.
Faculty panel members :
Professor Bob Brown
Professor Dan Lacks
Professor Agata Exner
Student panel members
Moderator: Jen Agnew
The forum is open to all. Lunch will be provided but you do NOT need to register. Simply turn up and enjoy the event!
Background to the topic:
Many students at Case report that the first time they get a good sense of what the professor expects from them in a course is when they take an exam, often with disastrous results. This leaves them feeling aggrieved and resentful.
Most professors will be aghast at this revelation. After all, they usually go to great lengths to create syllabuses that explain their expectations and give introductory overviews of the course outlining what the course will be all about. Instructors feel they repeatedly pepper their course with information about what is important and what is not. How can it be possible that students do not know what is expected of them?
What we have here is a failure to communicate. How can this state of affairs be overcome?
A closely related question is about responsibility for learning. Clearly both professors and students share the responsibility for this. But what is not so clear is how this responsibility should be distributed. What are reasonable expectations for the professor to have of the students and what are reasonable expectations for the students to have of the professor? And how can this division of responsibilities be clearly articulated so that each person is aware of what he or she must do to succeed and there is no confusion and misunderstanding.
March 20, 2006
Case's grade distribution
Those of you who are interested in how grades are distributued at Case according to gender or department, will be interested in this message I received recently from Dr. Julie Petek, who is Director of Degree Audit & Data Services in the Office of Undergraduate Studies.
In response to a recent UCITE discussion on grade inflation and a request for more information on current grade distributions here at Case, I've pulled together some undergraduate data from five recent semesters, and summary results are posted on our Undergraduate Studies web site here.
There are two links, and you will need to log in with your Case network ID to access the information. The first is a bar graph showing the percentage of grades by gender. The second is a large table breaking down the percentage of grades by term by course subject, and there is an overall grade distribution table at the end of the page. The overall percentage of As and Bs is 72.5% (n=91,836 grades). Descriptions of Subject Codes can be found on the Registrar's web site here. Cross-listed courses were not combined.
March 14, 2006
UCITE had an interesting discussion on grade inflation last week.
As some of you may know, beginning January 2003, the GPA cutoffs to achieve honors were raised to 3.56 (cum laude), 3.75 (magna cum laude), and 3.88 (summa cum laude) so that only 35% of students would be eligible for honors. (The earlier values were 3.20, 3.50, and 3.80 respectively.) This measure was taken because the number of people who were graduating with honors had risen steadily over the years.
Is this an example of grade inflation, by which it is meant that grades have risen without a corresponding increase in real learning? Or are there more benign causes, such as that we getting better prepared and more able students now, or our teaching methods have improved. Another important issue is whether Case's experience of rising grades is part of a national trend or an exception.
The question of what causes changes in average grades (both locally and nationally) is a topic that generates a great deal of passion, as do the various suggestions for what steps should be taken to deal with the issue. It is important to realize that although many faculty strongly feel that there is grade inflation and that it is a pernicious phenomenon that should be addressed, studies investigating this question give results that are decidedly mixed.
For example, a recent publication of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences asserts that grade inflation exists and should be dealt with by instituting measures such as mandatory 'curves', adding information such as class size and average grade for each course on the student's transcript, or reducing the number of gradations to three (honors, pass, fail), etc.
On the opposing side, Alfie Kohn argues that there is no evidence for grade inflation, that this is an issue that has been blown way out of proportion by those who have a very narrow concept of the role of grades in learning.
Striking the middle ground, an ERIC digest of the literature on this topic finds evidence that the situation is much more ambiguous, with evidence for and against the existence of inflation.