In this blog, I’m going to discuss two topics in higher education where I would like to see a change. The first of these topics, a redefinition of our grading system, was prompted after our class discussion of the flaws of the current grading system. The second topic, relating to the divide between “first tier” and “second tier” faculty, was prompted by my research for my final paper.
Redefining Grading. In class, I was interested to hear that some students that thought our grading system was inherently flawed and needed serious reform. I have mixed feelings about this. If the goal is to give students feedback that is more flexible, detailed, and relevant to the individual student, then I agree that changing the grading system would be for the better. However, I am concerned that some of the dislike of the current system stems from an extreme form of anti-elitism – one that refuses to offend others by rewarding excellence. You see, if we have grades, someone gets the highest grade. Are we so afraid of this? Has the idea of competition become so distasteful to us that we want to avoid any appearance of “keeping score?” I guess I worry that by making grades less tangible so that nobody fails, we are also creating a system where no one really excels, either. I think one possible solution is to expand the existing system to allow for (or even require) comments on the transcript as well as grades. I think this is a change that could be implemented relatively easily, and would help separate the students who “just want the grade” from the students with a passion for the subject while still maintaining the same level of (if not more!) student accountability as in the current system.
Academic Culture and the “Second Tier” Concept. My final paper in this class discusses the subject of motherhood in academia. One common theme I have noticed in my reading is the idea that the academic world consists of two “tiers” – a first tier of prestigious, tenure track positions and a second tier composed mostly of part time and adjunct positions. This second tier is sometimes associated with the “mommy track” because of the large percentage of mothers working in these positions. In a previous blog, I talked about how the gap between the pay and respect given to adjunct professors and their tenure-track counterparts can be vast. On the other hand, according to Mason and Ekman, the number of adjunct faculty positions is growing more rapidly than any other academic sector. In an ideal world, I would say that the culture needs to change to eliminate the division between the first and second tier. In the real world, I think we need to improve working conditions in this second tier by working to increase salaries and job security for these positions, making the relationship between these professionals and the university less exploitative. I think we also need develop a system that gives these “second tier” professors real options for transitioning to more permanent or tenure-track positions, if they have the desire and ability to fulfill these roles.
What do you think? Are the changes I propose necessary? Feasible?
I enjoy the idea you have on grading. I for one would like to see notes or even little videos attached to one’s transcripts. We CAN do that, since a lot of transcripts are electronic anyway. I even found a few videos online of people’s resumes. These things are not hard to do, nor hard to look at. The only issue, as with many of our ideas, is that it’s hard to change the majority of people. Maybe the changes could be subtle and take their time to grow without people set in their ways noticing too much. I’m not sure, but I do know change is difficult, even if it’s for the best.
I disagree with your post somewhat with respect to eliminating grades. I think that a move to a more pass/fail grading system could be good as long as the standards for what constitutes a “pass” are increased. Because the grading system is almost completely arbitrary and up to the instructor, the meaning of getting an A in one class is unrelated to getting an A in another class. The problem is that we like to be able to rank and sort students, so we use grades in this way anyways.
A much better solution, in my opinion, would be to assess if each student meets the learning objectives of the course, and pass them when they meet all the objectives. Right now, a student can do really well on some objectives, and miserably on others but sill end up with an OK grade in the class. I think that passing a class should simply be determined by the student demonstrating ALL of the learning objectives. Likewise, it shouldn’t matter if the student does it the first time or the fourth time. An a middle ground, perhaps there could be a “pass with distinction” that recognizes some of the students as being better than others, or a “passed the first time” to recognize students who didn’t have to retake the class.