Ever since reading Rebekah Nathan’s book, I’ve been thinking about Pogo’s famous line: We have met the enemy and he is us! One of Nathan’s observations was that despite little effort students get decent grades, Bs or better. This wasn’t just her finding; she cites a similar point from the 2003 NSSE study. Could it be that one reason why intellectual pursuits play such a limited role in our students’ university experience is that we don’t require more than that? Are faculty enabling bad behavior on the part of our students?
I’ve never worried much about grade inflation. The grades in our department tend to average about C+, and the grades I give fit that pattern, so at first glance I don’t seem to be guilty of enabling. But perhaps that conclusion deserves a second glance.
In thinking about the results of my principles of economics experiment, I realized something. I typically curve the exam grades in that course. I originally thought that curving the grades wouldn’t have an adverse impact on incentives to participate in the metacognitive activities, since if those activities enhanced student learning and exam grades, as I believe they do, then those students who completed the activities would do well on the exams relative to the rest of the students, and curving the grades wouldn’t affect that. The overall average wouldn’t be affected very much. But given how few students participated, curving the grades may have been a strong disincentive for the others to do so. Since most students didn’t do the meta activities, the class average on the exams was depressed. This could have been an incentive for students to do the meta activities, but then I took that incentive away–my curving brought those grades up. The result may have been to convince students they didn’t need to do the meta activities to do “well enough.”
The solution to this would be to stop curving the exam grades. This would likely cause major angst since the average grade would likely be less than a C. Hopefully, this might induce students to do the meta activities from that point on.
Something to think about.