Saturday, February 20, 2016

If only students would listen to me!

The older I get, the more I am temped to respond with a "doh!" when I read stuff that I have been saying/writing forever.  But then other than the few losers, er, readers here, who cares about what I have to say, right? ;)

In this essay on the importance of innovation, I read the following sentence:
GPA was associated with innovation, but maybe not in the direction you’d think.
Why the "doh!" you wonder, eh ... let me tell you that first before I report on the innovation essay.

For starters, I have this post from December 2012, with the title "Education does not equal pursuing the GPA" in which I quoted a better known person:
The pursuit of the perfect GPA is a distraction that leads too many students away from the challenges they should be facing in their undergraduate years.
You can already see the connection, right?  In the American system (with which I am most familiar) students can follow a number of strategies in order to pursue the GPA.  They can, for instance, avoid the sciences if they think they are not quite strong in that field--even if they are genuinely interested in science.  They can bypass learning a foreign language if that is not their best suit.  Or, even within these, they can avoid mean old professors like sriram who have may earned a reputation for being intense.  Very rational, if the goal is the GPA.  But, the un-challenged mind is not good at creativity and innovation!

As I wrote in this post from March 2013:
Thus, we end up graduating students with high GPAs, making sure that all students being above-average is not merely the case in a fictional Lake Wobegon!  Commencement ceremonies now routinely have magna- and summa-cum-laudes by the dozens--of course, very, very few of them from math and science, and nobody seems to even acknowledge that!  Once, when I participated in the university's deliberations on choosing the outstanding graduates, I made a mistake of commenting that it would not be fair to compare GPAs of students who were in different majors; I was surprised that there was no discussion on that point. Keep ignoring and eventually people like me will go away, I suppose!  It worked--it has been years since I participated in those discussions.
 Have I established by now that I have always been railing against the GPA?  If only students understand that.  No, correct that.  If only faculty understood that and passed along to students that an easy A or an easy C or easy whatever is not going to help them at all.  It is no longer a world in which every college graduate can immediately transition to that successful middle class life.

Back to the innovation essay then:
From our findings, we speculate that this relationship may have to do with what innovators prioritize in their college environment: taking on new challenges, developing strategies in response to new opportunities and brainstorming new ideas with classmates.
Time spent in these areas might really benefit innovation, but not necessarily GPA.
Additionally, findings elsewhere strongly suggest that innovators tend to be intrinsically motivated – that is, they are interested in engaging pursuits that are personally meaningful, but might not be immediately rewarded by others.
We see this work as confirmation of our findings – grades, by their very nature, tend to reflect the abilities of individuals motivated by receiving external validation for the quality of their efforts.
Perhaps, for these reasons, the head of people operations at Google has noted:
GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring.
If only students understood that! :(

And, the essay presents everything that I tell every one of my classes.  Like this:
Classroom practices make a difference: students who indicated that their college assessments encouraged problem-solving and argument development were more likely to want to innovate. Such an assessment frequently involves evaluating students in their abilities to create and answer their own questions; to develop case studies based on readings as opposed to responding to hypothetical cases; and/or to make and defend arguments.
Any student who has been in any of my classes, even if that student slept through, knows well that my courses are structured exactly along those lines.  I emphasize over and over the importance of the ability "to create and answer their own questions."  Of course, I have posted about that too:
Higher education is then about understanding concepts enough to be able to ask questions.  In the format that most of higher education is, students rarely are taught how to ask questions.  And if they never figure this out after four years of university education, then all the access that Google provides will be of zero value.
Despite the "doh!" it does feel good to know that I am not alone in this cosmos ;)

If only students would listen to me though--for their own good!

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