I was not surprised when the issue of quality vs. quantity came up during our first class. As classmates were asking about how many, how long, or how good blogs need to be, I was reminded of my own teaching experiences. Students ask questions about very specific details that I now have to incorporate in every single assignment. 12-point font, Times New Roman, double-spaced, 1-inch margins, APA style citations. I find myself discouraged, because I don’t like limiting people for some assignments and know it inhibits creativity and processing. But, I know if I don’t set standards, some students will (unfortunately) take advantage of my laxness. And I’m not even talking about the obvious ones (triple spacing…..really?!). I once found out a student used 14-point sized periods in order to fill up space (granted, I think that is pretty smart).
When I do think about why these questions of quantity or quality occur, I believe it really comes down to grades. Students, whether graduate or undergraduate, are so overly concerned with getting grades that it tends to detract from the goals of the assignment and education. I want my students to think critically and to take risks, but why would they do that if it might mean a lower grade. I try to include writing options on my tests (i.e., 15 possible options, choose 5). I know some of the questions are really challenging and could result in some really deep thinking. But, with the fear of a bad grade, few choose those options. Few choose to put themselves in an uncomfortable place. And who can blame them or ourselves.
Alfie Kohn wrote an excellent article (here) that argues why grades should not be a part of teaching. Sure, grades give us a way to identify problem areas and provide quantitative data supporting education. But, if we have a system where instructors can give feedback to students, writing can improve and assumptions can be challenged. I wish we could have a college or university where there were no grades, but rather individualized assessment and evaluation. I know it won’t be accepted anytime soon (I expect it to be frowned upon). Yes, it would take a lot more time and many more resources to have this in place for higher education, but I think that would be a fantastic way to build cognitive thinking skills that would be much more beneficial for the future.