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Sat May 9, 2015, 09:05 PM

What’s the Point of a Professor?

IN the coming weeks, two million Americans will earn a bachelor’s degree and either join the work force or head to graduate school. They will be joyous that day, and they will remember fondly the schools they attended. But as this unique chapter of life closes and they reflect on campus events, one primary part of higher education will fall low on the ladder of meaningful contacts: the professors.

That’s what students say. Oh, they’re quite content with their teachers; after all, most students receive sure approval. In 1960, only 15 percent of grades were in the “A” range, but now the rate is 43 percent, making “A” the most common grade by far.

Faculty members’ attitudes are kindly, too. In one national survey, 61 percent of students said that professors frequently treated them “like a colleague/peer,” while only 8 percent heard frequent “negative feedback about their academic work.” More than half leave the graduation ceremony believing that they are “well prepared” in speaking, writing, critical thinking and decision-making.

But while they’re content with teachers, students aren’t much interested in them as thinkers and mentors. They enroll in courses and complete assignments, but further engagement is minimal.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/10/opinion/sunday/whats-the-point-of-a-professor.html

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Sat May 9, 2015, 09:16 PM

1. Back in the day in a galaxy far far away

We were graded on the curve and so only 10% or less received an A. Similar to this WIKI snip:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grading_on_a_curve
For example, if there are five grades in a particular university course, A, B, C, D, and F, where A is reserved for the top 10% of students, B for the next 10%, C for the next 60%, and D or F for the remaining 20%, then scores in the percentile interval from 0% to 20% will receive a grade of D or F, scores from 21% to 80% will receive a grade of C, scores from 81% to 90% receive a grade of B, and scores from 91% to 100% will achieve a grade of A.


If 43% of the students receive an A then there is something seriously wrong with the test, course material and the teacher. It is not hard enough. The point should be to push students to achieve their best and not to make them feel good. The teachers I disliked the most, in hind sight, are the best teachers I had.

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Response to TexasProgresive (Reply #1)

Sat May 9, 2015, 09:21 PM

2. Harvard is even much higher then that

 

Grade inflation is ginormous. Students expect a's now a days.

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Response to TexasProgresive (Reply #1)

Sat May 9, 2015, 09:21 PM

3. The teacher I disliked the most was my 6th grade science teacher.

 

At the time, I thought she was a crazy Jamaican lady who screamed a lot and was bad at science.

As it turns out she was a crazy Nigerian lady who screamed a lot and was bad at science.

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Response to TexasProgresive (Reply #1)

Sun May 10, 2015, 03:59 AM

6. Curve grading is idiotic.

The point of classes is to learn the material. It's just bullshit to say that only 10% of the class can learn the material.

Although I agree that grade inflation is real, the basic cause is baby boomers graduating. Subsequent age cohorts were smaller, and colleges just weren't about to shut down a lot of classes just because there were fewer students. Hence grading came to be partially about keeping as many tuition-paying students as possible in school.

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Response to eridani (Reply #6)

Sun May 10, 2015, 05:21 AM

7. If the grades don't fall on the bell curve

There is something wrong. Out of any 100 people most should be average, a few above average and a few below average. 40+% in the highest category is a definite anomaly. It appears to me that teachers and professors are being leaned on to skew the curve. Either that or there is rampant cheating being done by the students. I suspect it is a mixture.

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Response to TexasProgresive (Reply #7)

Mon May 11, 2015, 03:03 AM

11. I see no reason why grades should necessarily fall on a bell curve.

Maybe very generic tests like SAT or ACT, but when you narrow down the subject matter, many more people become capable of mastering it than mastering, say, science subjects in general.

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Response to eridani (Reply #11)

Mon May 11, 2015, 07:50 AM

12. I guess we will disagree

I still maintain that most people in a group will be average and therefore should receive a C grade, a few are exceptional and should receive an A grade and a few can not do the material and are failed. When the course material is such that the students naturally fall on the bell curve then it is as it should be. I don't advocate grading on the curve which is forcing the issue but that the final results should be fall closely on it.

How does it make a student feel who is really exceptional to know, and they will know, that their A means the same as someone they know is really a C student? And is the C student who receives an A urged to work harder?

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Response to TexasProgresive (Reply #12)

Mon May 11, 2015, 10:37 PM

13. Who gives only letter grades in college? If you got a 95, you know you

--did better than someone with an 85, even if both grades counted as As.

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Response to eridani (Reply #13)

Mon May 11, 2015, 11:12 PM

14. 85 is an A?

Last edited Tue May 12, 2015, 08:25 AM - Edit history (1)

That explains a lot. 85 was a C for us. If 85 is an A now then I can see how 40+% can get an A.

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Response to eridani (Reply #6)

Sun May 10, 2015, 09:30 AM

8. Straw man. No one **EVER** said that only 10% of the class can learn the material.

Perhaps only 10% of the class have demonstrated good mastery of the material in the space of one semester, which is a different thing. This is not only plausible, but probable, with hordes of students taking classes in which they have no interest, and for which they are poorly prepared, but which someone decided they must take as a prerequisite for their major -- which may not have much connection with the class.

I have taught Chemistry for years, and many of the students who take chemistry courses are pre-med, pre-dental, pre-vet, nursing, or PT majors who are *required* to take Gen Chem and often Organic. Often, it turns out that they are not required to take those courses specifically, but are only required to take a science course which includes a laboratory component, and they choose a chemistry course for no particularly compelling reason, without the slightest exposure to chemistry (or much science, for that matter) in school to that point. It is hard to imagine a more effective prescription for disinterested students, yet it is the norm.

Nor are students' choices of a major necessarily based on a qualified, objective analysis of their abilities. It amazes me to see how many students go into college expecting to become doctors when they can't even scrape together a B average in their intro courses. Too many choose that profession based on a wildly unrealistic estimate of what a medical education involves, much less what actually being a doctor involves. They just know it's a prestigious, well-paying profession, or have some altruistic notion of helping people without realizing that only help from someone with more abilities than they possess is likely to be wanted.

Perhaps students need to be talking to their advisors more -- not just their assigned faculty advisor, but high school career guidance counselors (if such jobs still exist), family, people in the profession they hope to enter, etc. I don't remember anyone providing me with much information at all about what to expect in college, except for a couple of lucky chance encounters with people from the college I hoped to attend. I think most students enter school even more blindly than that, and their career plans -- such as they are -- are based more on wishful thinking than informed analysis or preparation. The educated classes actively prepare their children for college; most 'Merkins just expect their kids to muddle through with a C average the way they would themselves, and after four years of attendance without intellectual commitment, get their had stamped "employable", with a nice framed certificate to prove it. They just can't imagine that college might serve a better purpose than that.

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Response to eridani (Reply #6)

Sun May 10, 2015, 09:36 AM

9. There's a difference in definition.

What's a grade showing, anyway?

One view is that it's showing relative mastery. How well did the group do, and how do you rank in that group? Then the normal distribution is for you, with a gut check: If the normal distribution is too different from the data then either the test was too hard or the test was too easy. (Or the students were exceptionally smart/hardworking or stupid/lazy--or the teacher was execptionally good or bad). Either way, you'd except a lot of Cs or whatever your "this kid has average mastery" grade is. Often this kind of grading assumes that there's a core of content that should be mastered for a C, but that kids will go above and beyond what's required to learn some information that's not required.

Another view is that the grades show absolute mastery. There's X amount of information, and no more. It all gets presented and reviewed. There are no surprises. The test is a hurdle to see if you've "mastered" this information adequately. Then "adequately" might be 100%, if there's a small amount of material to be learned. These are criterion-based tests. The problem is that often you have to limit the content because "everybody should be able to make an A."

If you like the second definition, then it's possible to use the info to evaluate teachers, if a lot of assumptions hold true. (Thing is, a lot of the assumptions don't always hold.)

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Sat May 9, 2015, 10:00 PM

4. The pivot point for grade inflation started with one very specific change:

 

During all the student upheaval in the 60s and 70s, the student let it be known that they felt their faculty were generally distant and disengaged and the resulting education was "irrelevant." As a concession to the students, student evaluation of teaching became mandatory at just about every institution. (Student evaluation of teaching likely began around 1920, but it was in the late 60s that the tide turned.) Retention of young, untenured members of the faculty hinged in part on receiving outstanding evaluations. Ditto faculty raises. This may or may not have helped with "relevance", but it certainly impacted grades. Faculty soon learned that happy students give great evaluations, and happiness is an A or a B in your class.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Sat May 9, 2015, 10:50 PM

5. if u learn the material taught, an A is appropriate. purpose of class is to learn what's taught, NOT

to figure out how to flunk most students.

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Response to msongs (Reply #5)

Sun May 10, 2015, 09:40 AM

10. That's one view.

But, still, a lot of kids think that "C" is flunking.

Then again, most kids are more concerned with checking off boxes and requirements, filling in blanks, and making sure they get the GPA and class rank they deserve by virtue of having a pulse than with learning what's in the course.

They're more than content in too many cases to figure out what's going to be part of the grade and turn in just that work after the test (when it does them no good except for their grade) than do all the work before the grade. Free knowledge, it turns out, isn't valued by a lot of people any more than free air is.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed May 13, 2015, 04:55 PM

15. The bell curve grading system iis a seriously flawed system that needs to be stopped.

Grade inflation became an issue in some quarters about the time colleges and universities started letting in more minorities and women started taking "nontraditional" majors. The real issue here is a "concern" that letting in "those" people reduced the quality of education. It has been a clever right wing ploy to play to racist and sexist feelings about women and minorities and at the same time degrade the value of an education, in general.

Has anyone pointed out that the children of the rich and powerful have always been given grades and degrees, some examples include the Koch brothers and the Bush children?

Grade inflation is a red herring.

Complaining about young people is certainly not new.

Socrates said: “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

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