Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Response to Question on Experience

This was a good question posted as a comment to my last posting:

"I have posed this question to various friends and colleagues of mine who are in academia: At what point does the machine become so dysfunctional that the experience machine no longer operates? Is there a breaking po tint, or canhere be perpetual mediocrity?"

For what it's worth, I think the experience machine for students will eventually hit the wall. The student demand for high curves is a function of risk aversion. Even the best students want the curve to make sure there is a safety net in case they fall short. Eventually I think the market will force them to distinguish themselves. They will understand that part of the reason they cannot find jobs is that they refuse to take the risk of a grading system that will allow them to shine. For example, when I give a B, it really means anything from a to a B+. I think they may come to realize that the "nurturing," lecturing, multiple choice testing teacher may not be preparing them for life after law school.

For faculty, I think the machine will never break. As standards slip there will be new rationalizations. If all else fails one can stay in the experience machine by reciprocal citations, self promotion and creating yet a another top 10 list. The point is that any threat to the experience machine is dealt with by modifying it and unlike the students there is no outside mechanism to force reevaluation. It is stunning to me how malleable the machine is. The other day I happened upon a popular teacher's power point. The entire power point had to have been prepared for form not substance. I cannot go into here but it was comparable to a slogan. No doubt students love it and the administration loves it when the students love it almost without regard for whatever the "it" is. The "it will move as necessary.


higher education programs said...

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Anonymous said...

Two things. First I think your analysis is mostly on point. Although I would probably add that such projections assume that society as a whole is consistently stable. Now if for instance we go the way of the USSR, as in allow the ruling elite to dominate, never reform anything and eventually the system becomes overwhelmed, then I could see law faculty and all of higher ed be in a little bit of trouble. Granted I don't think this will happen however it does seem like the ruling class in America seems to be making the same errors that have lead to systematic decline in other countries. Namely that they assume they are both inherently correct and superior to all other individuals and perspectives and hence grow crass in their decision making. One need only look at the various financial crisis etc and the thinking that drove them to see this.

Two, Are you on Facebook?

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Yes. I am not facebook.

Nate said...

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. How does the UF grading system not allow people to shine? Some student makes more As than others and have a higher GPA and higher class standing than other students.