Grading on a curve. Making students evil?

Disney - Evil Emperor Zurg!
Image by Express Monorail (Hiatus) via Flickr

While studying for my recent test in Artificial Intelligence, I used Quizlet (still an awesome service) to create a deck of flashcards in order to help memorize all of the terms. As I was about to post the link on the class discussion board so that others could use it, I hesitated. The reason for my hesitation? I asked myself, “if the grade for this test gets curved? Would others using this possibly lower my grade?”

The answer to the question is of course yes. If the grade had been curved my helping the rest of the class would have hurt me. I posted the link in the end but am still disgusted by the fact that I even considered not sharing with others just to improve my own grade. I am even more disgusted by the fact that I have to make that choice. What if I was really into getting good grades (although we all know what I really think of grades)? Could I mislead people on discussion boards or during study groups in the hopes of bringing down their grades and increasing my own? How many students do this at the moment? Yuck!

So, the model of curving grades is broken. If it fosters malicious competition then it is not a model that should be used. The model cannot just be thrown out though, as it is very useful.It protects students from professors who have lost touch with just how difficult their material is. It helps to make sure the course grades from year to year are consistent. So how to fix the model?

My one proposal is to give students who work towards increasing the understanding of their fellow students some form of bonus grades. If a student can provide proof of the fact that they helped to increase the understanding of their peers then they should be rewarded in some way. Sharing is a good thing… not a punishable offense!

 

Update: The actual test that I took was not curved in the end. In fact it was a really well written test with all the questions relating directly to the learning goals of the course and most students in the class did really well. I still have many other courses where grade curving and scaling will be applied this year, but Artificial Intelligence isn’t one of them. 

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Grading on a curve. Making students evil?

A problem with learning outcomes… and mayby curriculum in general

A line through 20 points?
Image via Wikipedia

Having clear learning goals in a course has been a great step forward for education.  In courses where this practise is used (and used well) students know exactly what they will be able to do if they successfully learn the material in the course. There is also a clearer view of what the practical requirements are for what they have to do to prove that they have learnt what they are supposed to learn.

The problem comes when you don’t really agree with the learning outcomes of a course. Now, I know that any course contains core material, but at the same time students should have the freedom to decide what they concentrate on. For example:

I am currently taking a course called “Numerical Approximation and Discretization”. The learning goals boil down to “understanding, selecting, utilizing, assessing and creating” different Numerical Approximation techniques.studying

Now, I will never have a career in numerical approximation. However, I might find it useful to understand and select techniques of numerical approximation in some future research that I do. I will probably never have to create my own technique so why should I learn how to do it? Or even more importantly, why should I be assessed on my ability to do that? Would it not be possible for us to be provided with a range of possible learning outcomes for a course and let us choose the ones that we want to pursue? Those can then be tested more rigorously. We would still be exposed to the other things, but will be allowed to concentrate on that which we are passionate about. I don’t think that this is that far fetched, for instance I already get to choose the courses in the program that interest me, why not have a choice over the goals within those courses?

I know that any form of granularity makes a professor or curriculum committee’s job much harder. However, in courses where assessment is already based around certain outcomes I feel it would not be too difficult to weight assessments based on the student’s preference in outcomes.

It all really boils down to this: Should students have some kind of input on their goals learning goals for a specific subject, or is that something that should only be decided by a curriculum committee?

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A problem with learning outcomes… and mayby curriculum in general

Microsoft shares its vision for the future… I can’t wait!

Here is a concept video that Microsoft recently showed at a conference. I found the original here (take a look at the comments, it’s pretty interesting).

http://images.video.msn.com/flash/soapbox1_1.swf

Although, with all the recent layoffs at Microsoft maybe 2019 might be a stretch.

Maybe it’s time to start backing Aubrey de Grey on his quest to help us all live to be 1ooo years old just so that we can all live the the cool future that is sure to come…
http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

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Microsoft shares its vision for the future… I can’t wait!

Under Construction

?
Creative Commons License photo credit: carboila
So as some people have noticed lately my blog’s theme has changed. This is simply due to the fact that since last summer when I coded the old theme I have learned a lot about usability, accessibility and just general good practices on the web. As such I couldn’t stand the old theme any longer (due to its violation of those practices) and had to change.

While the new theme does still break a whole bunch of rules when it comes to accessibility and usability, I will be fixing those as soon as I can. The theme is chosen for its style and how I identify with it more than anything else. One of the key fixes is going to be a nice (really complex to code) JavaScript navigation. However, due to the fact that school is in crunch mode and due to my impending trip to Mexico, I will not be able to fix things up as early as I would like.

So there it is, new theme with many changes and improvements still to come. Comments, suggestions and all that jazz are welcome (especially as I am still on the fence about some of my ideas).

Under Construction

The problem with grades

Yesterday I followed a link from D’Arcy Norman to this article in the Globe and Mail about a professor who was fired because he gave all of his students A+ grades so that they could focus on the learning instead of worrying about grades. While reading the very humorous comments I stumbled across a reference to this Calvin and Hobbes comic:

© Universal Press Syndicate
© Universal Press Syndicate

It highlights what I hate most about the way the world conducts education.

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The problem with grades

What education will look like in 10 years

“What education will look like in 10 years” is the title of the talk that I gave at the UBC Terry Talks conference a few months ago. Terry Talks is a conference modeled after the famous TED talks and it was a raging success. In my talk I touched on the different ways in which I believe education is going to change. I spoke about how it is going to become more collaborative, more “real” and more open. I gave examples of places where all of these changes are starting to manifest themselves and drew some predictions of where things are going to go.

They don’t show my last slide, but in it is a big shout out to a few people like Brian Lamb, Jon Beasley-Murray, Jim Groom, Scott Leslie, Gardner Campbell, Alan Levine and D’Arcy Norman, all of who’s presentations, tweets, blog posts, comments and plain old conversations have helped to shape so many of my ideas and beliefs. I think that this stuff really matters and it was your collective influences that helped me to see that.

Here is my talk embedded below:
http://blip.tv/play/AerXPpPRSA
To see more of the talks you can visit the Terry Talks Website.

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What education will look like in 10 years