Sunday, March 18, 2012

2 things you could change tomorrow and make education better

1. Homework - get rid of it.

At a vegetarian dinner the other week a girl I argued with most of the evening (true to my vices) had earlier (to arguing) said that schools where supposed to neutralise advantage/disadvantage.

Educational reform is hard, because you are never able to build an education system from scratch, you have to reform what we have already. But if schools are meant to neutralise advantage/disadvantage you would get rid of homework.

I don't so much care about neautralising advantage or disadvantage though, I would say get rid of homework because it encourages the notion that there is always an advantageous tradeoff between resources consumed and performence.

Specifically it sends kids home with the message - the more of your time you give up, the better at school you will do. This implicit contract is made with no real expectation of actual returns on the kids behalf.

We are training kids to be like their moron parents who work 'voluntary overtime' in a hangover from an 80's Japanese fad in the hope that their improved chances of getting improved wages will be such an improvement as to compensate them for the lost family time.

Homework simply says, it's okay to run over budget, to keep drawing from the well, to just do more. More = better. Better is better. More is worse.

2. Get rid of group assessment.

More of a plague of Business degrees and higher education, group assignments are just plain bad.

Firstly because of their gross inefficiency and inequity. They are inefficient because they add a whole bunch of compliance costs to an otherwise regular assignment. Like the time taken to arrange and actually meet.

Secondly they become inequitable naturally. Economics 101 motherfuckers. Say you have 4 students in a group. An A student, two C students and a F student. If we assume that the grading of the assignment works in such a way, and that the students work in such a way, that each's contribution is consistent with the grade obtained. Then everybody get's a C when the labor is devided equitably.

Two in the group are indifferent, and simply pay the compliance costs of having to actually meet for the group assignment. The F student is better off, the A student is worse off.

The A student has no insentive to share the work equitably, thus in order to better their grade (presuming they care about grades for reasons I still don't understand) they need to do as much of the assignment as possible. The only thing they can do is buy off the other students to PREVENT them from contributing. Even if they make a (rookie mistake) token effort to get them to contribute, they end up wasting more time reviewing and compiling the contributions.

Instead what winds up happening is that the highest achieving student takes on the whole assignment (thus I have often said a group assignment is an assignment that is work enough for 5 people, done by 1) and then emails a copy to everyone in the group before the due date to make sure everyone is okay with what is being handed in.

Thus 3 people don't contribute at all, and 1 person contributes everything and EVERYONE is better off. Because they A) all get an A grade and B) save all the compliance costs of weekly meetings, arranging weekly meetings, coordinating tasks, chasing contributions etc.

Group assignments in other words are a complete farce. What does the University gain?

I have speculated and inferred, and my suspicion is that they get to pass a whole bunch of students that would otherwise fail and get disgruntled. Group assignments smooth out the bell curve and lower the failure rate.

Having completed two business degrees at RMIT now, I can tell you I used to cry when a week one lecture revealed that assessment was an individual assignment, and tears of joy when they said it was a test.

Group assignments teach you about the realities of the work place, but they are bad realities, like the pareto distribution of workloads. So fucking get rid of them. There is plenty of time to learn to be a team player when you are in an office, with an actual manager in your team.

Get rid of these two things and you have gone a long way to educational reform.

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