Michael Overall: College courses need slacker index
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Monday, April 16, 2012
4/16/12 at 4:24 AM
In my Generation X experience - which, I have to admit, is getting a little dated - college classes fall into three broad categories. Let's call it the Typical Slacker Index.
In category TS1, students will pass with minimal effort and likely score a high grade by simply showing up and actually owning the textbook.
By Finals Week, some students may have trouble remembering where the classroom is.
Category TS2: A passing grade will require moderate exertion from the student, with an "A" or "B" unlikely without some reading and writing, perhaps even some memorization.
The instructor, however, might seem as bored by the class as everyone else. And after Finals, nobody will ever think about it again.
Category TS3: Even just a passing grade will require moderate to severe effort.
Students will be expected to know things at the end of the semester that they didn't know at the beginning.
Even when you're 40 years old, you might still be quoting from the lectures.
If colleges would use the TS Index, it would help students decide what classes to take.
You'll notice, for example, that the degree of difficulty tends to increase with the quality of the instructor.
But be careful. Grades can't necessarily measure how hard a class is.
A TS2-level professor might think he's challenging his students because they're getting B's and C's.
In fact, they're just too bored to pay attention.
On the other hand, students might be tempted to avoid TS3 classes. But that would be a horrible mistake.
You might do better when you're really learning something. And either way, you'll appreciate the class long after you've forgotten what your grade was.
In hindsight, my favorite classes would've ranked 3.2 or 3.5. One might have been pushing 3.8.
Frankly, I'd say the average class fell somewhere around 2.8. But, apparently, college has gotten a lot easier since I graduated.
Students today spend 50 percent less time studying than the previous generation, according to research by Richard Arum, a professor of sociology at New York University.
For four years, Arum and his co-author tracked 2,300 students at 24 universities, publishing the results in a new book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses."
Any given semester, half of the students didn't have a single course that required 20 pages of writing.
More than 1 out of 3 got by with less than five hours of homework per week.
As a result, the students showed minimal improvement on cognitive skills.
"The faculty are not surprised by these findings," Arum recently told NPR.
Colleges tend to reward instructors for getting high marks on student evaluations, Arum explained.
"There's a huge incentive set up in the system: asking students very little, grading them easily, entertaining them, and your course evaluations will be high."
Here's an idea: Don't let students evaluate a class until they've been out of college at least 10 years.
If they still remember anything, give the professor a fat raise.
Original Print Headline: Slacker index needed in college