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Higher Education?

Last week a report, based on the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses was released with the “shocking” finding that after two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning and after four years, 36% showed little change.  A couple points:

Part of the report discusses that students who studied alone fared better than those who studied in groups and participated in collaborative projects.  I don’t understand why this surprises anyone.  I have always hated group projects so I will admit that I likely have a slight bias.  At the same time, I agree that some group projects have merit in that when you are in a professional environment you do need to collaborate with others; therefore, it does teach you skills that are useful in the future.  However, (as is usually the case in the professional realm as well) one major drawback to group work is that people are afforded the opportunity to skate by on a lame effort as their groupmates have to pick up the slack or watch their own grade drop.  So, as it relates to this report, it seems fairly obvious that students who are the slackers in groups will not learn much, if anything, and will count on the fact that the rest of the “team” will take care of it.

Another one of the report’s findings is that students who read and write more, learn more.  Again, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  Reading and writing help you learn, develop, retain and analyze.  One thing I am certainly thankful for is that my professors at Syracuse University did not skimp on the reading and writing assignments.  And, as a fast reader, I read almost everything that was assigned.

Otto the Orange reads, writes AND kicks your ass at basketball

So, were they just surveying students who did poorly?  Or maybe they were at schools with less prestige?  Not true on either account.  The survey spanned 29 schools and the average GPA was a 3.2.  How can this be?  How can students be doing well and learning nothing?  And now we come to it – one of my BIGGEST pet peeves in school – participation grades.  Among other ways to cheat the college system, participation grades are the biggest crock of shit.  When I first started college, I remember being utterly disappointed that I was still being treated like a child.  Sign in sheets at class and lowering your grade for attendance seemed ridiculous to me.  I thought you were an adult in college?  That learning was in your own hands?

I’m not saying that students should never go to class.  I’m saying that if I miss three classes instead of the allotted two, but still get an “A” then why should my grade drop to a “B+”?  Equally as annoying is the flip side of this.  Why should someone else who isn’t learning anything have 10-20 percent of their grade be stellar just because they were present?  The other irksome component of some participation grades is based on how much you talk in class.  Professors are trying to bolster discussion and stimulate debate, but a good professor does not need to rely on passing out easy points to get their students involved.  Not to mention that most students who play this game just parrot what the person before them said with the preface of “I agree with what so-and-so said…”  Incredibly, this is even followed up by another person who starts off with “I agree with both so-and-so and so-and-so…”  Mind-blowing.

If we want people to learn in school, take away the bullshit grades just for sitting your ass in a chair or for giving a regurgitation of other people’s thoughts.  Should people show up and participate?  Sure.  But don’t give easy grades for this.  If someone doesn’t show it will negatively impact them when it comes to tests, papers, etc.  If not, then I guess they probably did the required reading and didn’t really need to be there then, did they?

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Posted by on January 29, 2011 in Domestic Policy

 

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Get Your Mind Right World

In 2000, the United Nations put forth eight goals known as the Millennium Development Goals.   

  1. End Poverty and Hunger
  2. Universal Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global Partnership

Within each goal there are varying numbers of targets, with 21 targets between all of the goals.  

This September, a summit was convened to examine the progress made thus far and to discuss how we can continue to strive toward the goals and what changes should be made.  As reported in  The New York Times, the United Nations says that only two of the targets seem to be on track to be met:  cutting in half the number of people who lack safe drinking water and halving the number of people who live on $1.25 or less daily.  Additionally, the number of people who have risen above the $1.25/day threshold is likely skewed due to the huge economic progress in China.

And of course, as what always seems to happen when a group of leaders convene, everyone wants to shuffle blame and talk about who should be doing more, giving more, etc.  Other people have complained that the goals are weak because there isn’t an entity holding the world accountable for reaching these goals and thus, there is no sense of responsibility or ownership over the progress and eventual success/failure of the goals.

First, I think that meeting two of the targets is fantastic and are big targets to have achieved.  I do agree that China’s success has probably skewed the numbers, but many other countries have made significant progress.  Plus, it’s still a good thing that the lives of all of those Chinese people have improved, even if it would be more ideal and more telling for the global efforts if the gains were widespread.

Additionally, even if the other targets do not look like they will be met, we can still work toward them as diligently as possible to achieve as much as we can.  Any amount of progress is positive and progress has been made toward each target.  Of course, this is not to say that we should just keep blindly forging ahead without discussion.  It is incredibly useful to analyze programs that have been successful in order to model new programs after them or modify existing programs.  It is also a good idea to analyze unsuccessful programs to see what may have gone wrong, so that adjustments can be made and so those mistakes can be avoided in future programs.  I think that the summit in September, and its media coverage, should have focused most of its attention on analysis of programs and trying to take positive steps forward to continue toward meeting the goals and targets.  Instead of focusing on the negative side of maybe only meeting two targets, successful programs could have been highlighted to motivate people to want to continue working toward achieving the goals.  

Also, I don’t think that it is worth discussing the lack of responsibility or consequences.  Just as answering to a boss doesn’t necessarily make all employees do their best work, the lack of a supervisor or someone you must “answer to” doesn’t mean that an employee will do substandard work.  It’s all about incentives, which can also involve social and moral incentives.  For example, in the book Freakonomics, a story is told about a boss who brings bagels into the office every week and then puts out a basket with the suggested price.  On average, 90% of the people paid the full price for the bagel.  Eventually the man decided to quit his job and become a bagel provider to the area businesses.  What he found was that on average, he was paid 87%.  The slight decline is likely attributable to the fact that his coworkers knew him and would feel bad about cheating him out of the money, whereas a stranger would not have that same concern.  Still, 87% is much higher than what most of his economist friends thought he would receive.  My point with this is that there doesn’t have to be someone watching in order for people to do the right thing. (Hint hint to all you hovering, overbearing bosses out there…you aren’t helping anything, you are just annoying people.)

As far as the Millennium Development Goals are concerned, I think that it is an especially dumb idea to worry over who the world will be accountable to if we don’t reach the goals and that the lack of accountability somehow depletes the desire to allocate the necessary resources.  Instead, if countries are not putting forth enough money, staff, supplies, intelligence, etc to reach the goals, then it is likely because of economic downturns–and subsequent loss of political will–and shifting aid to other areas such as recent natural disasters in Chile, Haiti, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc.

Overall, I just think it is a better use of time to focus on reaching the goals rather than focusing on what happens if we don’t reach them.  If we don’t, then we just keep working!

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2010 in Foreign Policy

 

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