27 October 2008

On the ups and downs of student progress

I'd like to agree with Mary Beard in this post, but she is writing from the privilege of Cambridge, where undergraduates are taught in part through tutorials, and dons know their students. That is not the case in most mass higher education, and I suspect many employers would say that references from universities are singularly uninformative. That's not the fault of the academics, merely a reflection of the numbers and that they will probably only remember the outstanding and the troublesome students in any given; the average are as ever anonymous.

Even so, I can applaud this sentiment;
Another [reason for replacing degree classification with a record of achievement] is the idea that the final degree class doesn’t reflect the strengths and weaknesses shown by a student throughout the course. Thank heavens it doesn’t, I think. I am privileged to teach some of the very brightest students in the UK. I want them to develop their potential in all kinds of ways – so that, in whatever walk of life, they can go on to be stunning citizens (cliché but true). That often means taking apart their preconceptions. It means watching them take intellectual risks, make intellectual mistakes, even do badly before they do really well. The last think I want is every course they have done listed and graded. [...] Some of my best student in Cambridge have got deltas on the way to alphas, and have learnt in the process about how not to be yes-women, when and how to take risks. Isn’t that what UK employers need?

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