Sunday, November 29, 2009

Survey says...

I've heard back from about ten students so far concerning the "survey" I sent out asking for feedback on my plans for designing next semester's courses. About half are students in Calc II next term, and about half will be in Topology.

Not too shockingly, the students from whom I've heard are among the respective courses' strongest and most dedicated, so some of their views should be considered accordingly.

Nonetheless, there are patterns emerging:

1. Like it or not, even the best students are highly motivated by getting good grades. While most of the students admitted they knew they shouldn't be compelled by the desire to get high marks, most of them owned that getting high marks eggs them on and gives them what they feel is an accurate measure of their progress. It's hard to say whether these students, among my strongest, are more or less likely to be motivated by grades than their peers who have to work a bit harder to keep up.

2. Nevertheless, I'm heartened that the students who have responded are all up for something new. Though the idea of their work being assessed in some sort of "portfolio" system is an unfamiliar one to them, they seem open to the possibility.

3. Most of them are very happy with the way their current (or past) courses with me have been run, and are up for more of the same. This is also heartening to me, as ultimately I think I do a good job in most of what I do for my classes, and much of what I do now will remain in next semester's courses, largely unchanged.

More to come, as more responses come in. For now, I'm off to bed.


Bret Benesh said...

I have been thinking hard about grades for the past couple of years. For what it is worth, here is my conclusion: at most schools, students would be crazy not to use grades as "motivation" in their courses. The whole system is set up for students to be constantly reminded of grades, and we dangle grades in front of students to get them to do things.

My take: We need to change the system. I think that grades are harmful to learning, and my reading of the psychology literature suggests that research backs me up.

It is too much to expect students to lead the way on this. Professors and administrators need to change the system--only then will students follow.

DocTurtle said...

Bret: absolutely. There isn't a shred of evidence that grades are good, but academic culture as we know it insists that grades are necessary. I agree with you completely that systemic changes must precede the perceptual ones on the part of the students...but in the meantime I think it's only fair that the students have a hand in crafting the course they'll be playing a major part in. (By the way, I don't mean to sound defensive, because I don't think you were suggesting that my surveying of the students is a pointless endeavor! I appreciate your thoughtful feedback.)

Incidentally, are you still at Harvard?

Bret Benesh said...

I am happy that you were not defensive---you did not sound defensive. I applaud what you are doing.

I am not at Harvard anymore. I am now at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University near St. Cloud, Minnesota. This is a tenure track position at a school of roughly 4000 students. It is close to my family, so I am hoping that this will be my permanent home.