Monday, August 08, 2011

Monday Higher Education Links

1. Last week, Arnold Kling proposed an independent college grading service he calls "A Means A":  

"A Means A solves the problem of credibility and comparability of grades in courses taught at different institutions of higher education. The innovation is to separate the grading process from other aspects of higher education. For any college-level course, A Means A will devise an appropriate exam and use independent professionals to grade the exam, according to transparent, standard criteria."

2. Today's Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Western Governors University in Utah is employing independent evaluators to grade students' work:

"The best way to eliminate grade inflation is to take professors out of the grading process: Replace them with professional evaluators who never meet the students, and who don't worry that students will punish harsh grades with poor reviews. That's the argument made by leaders of Western Governors University, which has hired 300 adjunct professors who do nothing but grade student work."

3. Tim Worstall writes at that Arnold Kling's college grading model already exists at the University of London:

"No one “goes to” the University of London. You go to King’s College, the London School of Economics, the University College London, Queen Mary, etc. But everyone’s degree is one from the University of London: because that university exists exactly and precisely to provide the accreditation, the standards, for the component colleges."

4. Alex Tabarrok writes about "The Coming Education Revolution" and highlights an upcoming online class on Artificial Intelligence that will be offered for free this fall at Stanford University, as one example of how the education market is moving towards superstar teachers who teach thousands of students online.  Alex predicts:

"For superstars and strong researchers, life in the ivory tower remains good. But for most teachers the cushy life is gone; tenure is just a dream for a majority of university teachers, salaries are low and teaching requirements have risen."


At 8/08/2011 1:08 PM, Blogger Marko said...

When I was teaching at a university, I took into account factors other than than just the answers when grading essays. I am not sure that is a bad thing - if a student is engaged in the course and clearly understands the material, I might be more lenient (or conversely more harsh) when grading their work. Of course this is in a more subjective field like philosophy and dealing with essays, but one way or another, the student did sometimes influence how I graded.

I avoided grade inflation by being tough. If lots of my kids were really good, lots got good grades. That was rarely ever the case.

At 8/08/2011 1:09 PM, Blogger AIG said...

This is a non-existent problem, and we "free market" types ought to understand why its non-existent. Grade inflation is like money inflation...eventually the market realizes what an A from this university means vs what it means elsewhere. The students realize it, the employers realize it, other schools realize it.

Second, perhaps more students today ARE capable of getting As than in the past. Today's students have access to all the knowledge ever gathered, at the tips of the fingers. They have access to computers and calculators that are more sophisticated than the Space Shuttle. Perhaps it is the course material and tests that have not coughs up with the student's abilities. (as an example, I had a take-home test in Dynamics once...and it was tough as nails. Yet through the clever use of Google, I was able to find the answers to the exact same questions the professor was using, since they were stock questions out of the professor's handbook!)

Third, imposing a standard test assumes there is a "standard class". There is no such thing. The Uni of London is like CUNY in NYC. Within CUNY you could do that, but not within different universities which are unrelated. Otherwise, the schools would lose the freedom to teach what they want to teach. Not just the schools but also the professors. While it makes no difference whether you go to one CUNY branch or another, we want there to be a difference between going to Harvard or CUNY.

At 8/08/2011 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) When you separate the grading process from other aspects of higher education, you will increase the staff/administration headcount over faculty. You can't standardize the assessment (grading) without standardizing the curriculum, and that takes a lot of people to accomplish who are not necessarily faculty (or at least not tenure full-time faculty).

Setting the curriculum up with reading, tests, quizzes, and written assignments and online components for a full semester course is a ton of work; however, I look forward to the reduced teaching responsibilities for the same amount of pay that I used to get when I had to develop my own curriculum. Even the electronic grade book with weighted scores is already in Blackboard for me: Cool!

At 8/08/2011 2:51 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

for once, i find myself agreeing with walt.

this whole notion presupposed some sort of testing system that cannot exist without standardization and highly specialized examiners.

standardized curricula are stultifying. designing classes around tests prevents innovation.

worse, the examiners will have nothing like the command of the subject matter that the professors do.

it would be bad enough getting someone able to intelligently read an essay on the french revolution, but looking for someone to assess autoregressive conditional heteroskedasticity for statistsic (ARCH model) might well be impossible.

At 8/08/2011 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex has a good link in his post, about an English teacher lamenting the complete waste of time that teaching English has become today, that I'm enjoying reading now. The idiot notion that future police officers should know how to write a "research" paper or worse, critique English literature, is one of the many reasons why the university is doomed.

At 8/08/2011 4:13 PM, Blogger NormanB said...

Grade inflation means a lot less learning is taking place. If you know you'll get an A even if you slack off it'll look the same as someone who got a solid A. Human nature to do this.

In the old days weekends started on Friday; now, on Wednesday. If you don't believe it go to college bars and check the attendence. Or just ask students.

At 8/08/2011 7:30 PM, Blogger Marko said...

Reading these responses got me thinking - what is the purpose of today's grading system? I know it is used by graduate and trade school admissions, along with standardized tests, so it must mean something to those folks. But what people in the job market? I guess with grade inflation, maybe grades have become almost pass/fail - the easier good grades are to get, the easier they are use as a bright line in the hiring decision process. In that case, grade inflation is a good thing.

Who cares about your grades a year or two after you graduate, assuming you get a job or don't go to law/med school? So maybe it doesn't matter?

At 8/09/2011 12:12 AM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"it would be bad enough getting someone able to intelligently read an essay on the french revolution, but looking for someone to assess autoregressive conditional heteroskedasticity for statistsic (ARCH model) might well be impossible."


What did he say?

At 8/09/2011 8:10 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

ARCH is a model for portfolio management.

it has lots of sub-variants (GARCH, etc)

this lays out the basic math.

personally, i think it's a waste of time as it uses purely historical data and performs terribly around crises or "black swans" which is to say it dramatically underestimated the fatness of the volatility tail under certain circumstances, but it's not a bad teaching tool and a number of people still use it for pricing certain kinds of derivative trades.

At 8/09/2011 2:10 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...


Thanks. It's much clearer to me now. :-)


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