Monday, 4 July 2011

Time to become a chilled-out entertainer, yeah?

Over at the University of Texas, management assess the teaching staff like this:
“pay, the sources of their pay, their rank, tenure status, teaching load, research grants and, for some, the average of the grades they awarded and their average student satisfaction score.”
Oh dear. It's the last bit that bothers me. What happens when your professional standing is judged by the grades you give and what the students think of you?

You hand out the higher grades like sweets and you try to be their best friends. It already happens. I was in an exam board a few years ago in which a module with a massively high-end pass rate was called evidence of 'good teaching' and my module, which had a high fail rate and a preponderance of low grades was described as a 'problem'.

It's crude. It doesn't take into account the many variables of any class and teaching experience. Students aren't stupid anyway: they know when they're being given an easy ride, and especially when others are getting one. They also know which modules to pick.

I'm sure the module with a high grade average was taught well, but you can't make that kind of causal link, nor should you with my low-average one. What it encourages is dishonesty and popularity contests.

It's not the ex-polys either. A colleague told me about the experience of transferring from this institution to a prestigious Russell Group university. Her first pile of marking was returned to her so she could have another go. 'You're not at [The Hegemon] now', she was told. Had she been too easy on these high-achieving kids? No. Rather the opposite. 'Our students don't get 2.2's'. The success of a university is crudely based on the A-levels of students entering and the degrees with which they leave (which is unfair in lots of ways).

Assessing staff by grades is an unsubtle way to make them fake academic success rather than to give students a fair sense of their level of achievement.

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