Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education by James E. Côté
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you are at all interested or involved in Higher Education I recommend you read this book. If the government and schools were to implement even some of their recommendations I think that it would drastically improve the preparation of students for University.
One of the best points is that we need to remember that it’s OK for our students to be “average”. And average is the C range, not the B range. Too many schools have their grades clustered in the top third of the spectrum which doesn’t actually give students a good idea of how skillful they are at different subjects.
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I originally posted this on a Ning site that we use for classroom discussions in my Educational Psych class. Today there was an interesting discussion in the English/social studies prep room at my school. Someone brought up how grades were posted, and that most teachers posted them by student number (essentially alphabetically). One teacher though posted them that way and then highlighted in one colour those getting As, and in another colour those failing. A second teacher posts his grades sorted by grade. This lead to a discussion of the purpose of grades. Grades seem to be a motivation for students. But what we decided on was that it wasn’t just the grade, it was the competition for the grade. Competition was the motivator, not grades. I brought up that I felt it was doing a disservice to the students to assume that they can’t be intrinsically motivated. I said that in a Pass/Fail system students may start to loose their grade focus, and instead compete for doing individual assignments better than others, giving students for whom competition is the motivator more frequent chances for reward from their competition, rather than competing solely for the final grade. It’s an interesting thought about what motivates our students to do well. I think that if grades are the main motivator, then we as members of the education system have failed them. But really, think about it. What is the purpose of a grade?
Why do we give students grades? Wait, no, that’s not it. I understand why we give students grades, what I don’t understand is why we use the traditional A through F system. It seems to discourage cooperation, and provide yet another thing for students to make fun of each other over. I believe that we should go to a Pass Fail system, with a few alterations. I don’t mean that we should get rid of numerical marking. I think that many people use this correctly. Numerical marking allows students to see where they are in comparison to the standard. What I do not agree with is when it is used to see where students are in comparison to others. A pass, then, should be 60% and higher (perhaps even 70%?). This way in order to pass you must actually have achieved a level of ability that will allow the students to move to the next level of classes. Grades should be used to help students, not to label them. Provincial exam marks have taken the place of actual GPA in deciding if someone can attend a particular university, so why bother with them? Perhaps it is in fact to encourage competition. Maybe people believe that students wont work hard unless there is a grade attached? I believe that students will always find a way to compete, and that our focus on grades has simply made that the reason for competition. But in reality we’ll see how my opinion changes as I work in the schools. Maybe I’ll find the reason for grades.