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.
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?