Wednesday, May 26, 2010


We tell our students that they need to learn to work as part of a team...they need to learn to give feedback...they need to communicate with their peers about "free riding"...and that they will need these skills in whatever job or career they pursue.  They do, they will...and we (meaning the faculty) don't.

Having worked in more than one Fortune 100 corporation, I can attest to the general lack of comfort with the concept of "feedback."  The reasons are numerous, ranging from fear of litigation to lack of knowledge.  Yet, despite the discomfort in corporate settings, the egg shells in the academic community are far more fragile.  Where are the role models for our students, not in theory, but in practice? 

Monday, May 10, 2010

To B or not to B

With a very small margin for error, I think I can recite every course in which I earned a B in my undergraduate and graduate degrees.  Some were lack of diligence (as in I just didn't do quite enough work and/or study, in the inevitable trade-offs most students make), some were genuinely my best effort, and some were a complete surprise, where I thought I'd nailed an A until I discovered the reality.  Many years later, I can honestly say that none of the B grades were a threat to my career or a limitation on my quality of life.

Each semester, the joy of electronic communication (aka email) allows students to petition for various grade-enhancing indulgences, without the discomfort or inconvenience of an office visit and eye contact.  Some of the requests are charming, some are amusing, some contain more than a modicum of entitlement--they came to class regularly, they turned in all their assignments, they tried really hard, they deserve an A.  I think it's the entitlement, more than anything else, that troubles me.

Doing the minimum (which, in my mind, includes turning in assignments and coming to class) does not guarantee an A, a grade intended to differentiate the top 10%.  In fact, doing the minimum would (in a perfect world) garner an average grade.  On some level, most students know this.  What they often worry about, however, is losing GPA-contingent scholarship money or dropping off some variation of the Dean's List.  Somehow, both the students and the academic community have lost sight of the real goal, which should be learning.  But that opens an entirely different discourse about how (and why) we use the methods we use to assess learning.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Just one day?

Being a mom is the best--and hardest--job I've ever had.  In constant pursuit of "getting it right," the best I seem to do most days is muddle through.  Just this week, my daughter came to me with questions about friends and how/why relationships change over time.  I don't have the answers, despite having officially reached Adulthood many moons ago.  You'd think I would have these things figured out by now.

This year, Mother's Day falls near the end of the academic semester, a time where students have varying degrees of dissatisfaction with their performance, my performance, University policies, their parents, and the world.  I've been thinking about how we see people in a specific role (mother or teacher, for example) without really seeing them at all.  Every student, professor, parent, and child has similar needs, wants, and struggles.  And it's so easy to forget.

We set aside one day each year to honor our mothers, when the job they do is all-consuming for close to 20 years, if not longer; it's not nearly enough recognition.  I wonder what would happen if we set aside an entire day (perhaps randomly and frequently) to really see the people around us and treat them--including our mothers--with the respect and kindness we all want? 

That's probably a good answer to some of my daughter's questions.  Thanks, Mom.