Grade Me! Grade Me!

Grades Matter to Lisa

Grades Matter to Lisa

“Grade me! Look at me! Evaluate and rank me! I’m good, good, good and oh so smart! GRADE ME!”

So cried Lisa Simpson, so desperate was she for the external validation that we get from scoring and ratings. We all need feedback, to know we are doing OK, to know when our extra efforts paid off, or to know when we are drifting off course. But as scientists will tell you, you cannot measure something without affecting the natural outcome. Grades will do that. We end up learning (or teaching) to the test, especially when those who oversee the grading are themselves rated by the proportion of good outcomes.

As an autodidact, with no academic structure, and without an ultimate end goal, other than learning itself, does this stuff matter? Well it turns out – Yes, it does! To me at least. Many of my activities in the University of Dave have no measureable or intended goal, but some, like a learning stream on a coding tutorial website, or working through some books, do have a beginning middle and a possible end. There is a definite buzz and motivation that comes from being able to see progress (elapsed progress, like reaching chapter 10 or lesson 8) and objective progress – like “I can now get JavaScript to read a JSON stream”. The learn-coding websites have a built-in system of badges and show progress through a learning path, which is great. This measurable but informal measurement of progress and validation is enough.

I just completed my first Coursera Course, as documented in my recent post, and this week I got my grade. Now unlike other activities, the Coursera course is highly structured, in real-time, and with external grading. Each activity I have done receives a score, which I didn;t think that hard about, except to think – yes, I am happy that I understand this subject and know how to apply it. My certificate of Accomplishment has been issued and shows a score of 94% and gives me a distinction. The Lisa Simpson in me loves this. And I love it even though a score of 70% would not affect the usefulness I gain from the course. I don’t know why it matters but it does at least a little bit.

At university I received a well-deserved 2(ii). Well deserved because, even though i was 1% short of a 2(i), I made choices over how I spent my time at university. I had a good time and as well as the academic, I had a broader experience for the price of a grade, and it was a grade well-spent. I suppose that’s the Bart in me.


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