Tag: university (page 1 of 3)

Ungrading the university experience

There’s some discussion of students ‘gaming the system’ in this article about ungrading university courses, but nothing much about AI tools like ChatGPT. This movement has been gathering pace for years, and I think that we’re at a tipping point.

Hopefully, this will lead to more Open Recognition practices rather than just breaking down chunky credentials into microcredentials.

[A]dvocates say the most important reason to adopt un-grading is that students have become so preoccupied with grades, they aren’t actually learning.

“Grades are not a representation of student learning, as hard as it is for us to break the mindset that if the student got an A it means they learned,” said Jody Greene, special adviser to the provost for educational equity and academic success at UCSC, where several faculty are experimenting with various forms of un-grading.

If a student already knew the material before taking the class and got that A, “they didn’t learn anything,” said Greene. And “if the student came in and struggled to get a C-plus, they may have learned a lot.”


[S]everal colleges and universities… already practice unconventional forms of grading. At Reed College in Oregon, students aren’t shown their grades so that they can “focus on learning, not on grades,” the college says. Students at New College of Florida complete contracts establishing their goals, then get written evaluations about how they’re doing. And students at Brown University in Rhode Island have a choice among written evaluations that only they see, results of “satisfactory” or “no credit,” and letter grades — A, B or C, but no D or F.

MIT has what it calls “ramp-up grading” for first-year students. In their first semesters, they get only a “pass,” without a letter; if they don’t pass, no grade is recorded at all. In their second semesters, they get letter grades, but grades of D and F are not recorded on their transcripts.

Source: Some colleges are eliminating freshman grades by ‘ungrading’ | NPR

The ‘value’ of a degree

I’ve got two things to say about this article in The Economist. One is to do with alternative credentialing, and the other is to do with my first degree.

  1. The rhetoric around Open Badges in the early days was that it would mean the end of universities. Instead, they have co-opted them as ‘microcredentials’ in a way that unbundles chunky degrees into bitesize pieces. Universities are now more likely to work with employers on these microcredentials, which is a benefit to employability, at the expense of a rounded ‘liberal’ education.
  2. My first degree was in Philosophy, which most people would assume makes you entirely unemployable. The reverse is actually true, especially for knowledge work. I should imagine that in a world where we need, for example, more AI ethicists, this trend will only continue.

The value of a university education, to my mind, isn’t really how much you earn specifically because of the piece of paper you earn at the end of it. Instead, it’s a way to broaden your mind by (hopefully) moving away from where you grew up and encountering people who think differently.

Chart showing the (economic) "value" of different degrees

In England 25% of male graduates and 15% of female ones will take home less money over their careers than peers who do not get a degree, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), a research outfit. America has less comprehensive data but has begun publishing the share of students at thousands of institutions who do not manage to earn more than the average high-school graduate early on. Six years after enrolment, 27% of students at a typical four-year university fail to do so, calculate researchers at Georgetown University in Washington, dc. In the long tail, comprising the worst 30% of America’s two- and four-year institutions, more than half of people who enroll lag this benchmark.


Earnings data in Britain call into question the assumption that bright youngsters will necessarily benefit from being pushed towards very selective institutions, says Jack Britton of the ifs. In order to beat fierce competition for places, some youngsters apply for whatever subject seems easiest, even if it is not one that usually brings a high return. Parents fixated on getting their offspring into Oxford or Cambridge, regardless of subject, should take note. But there is also evidence that tackling a high-earning course for the sake of it can backfire. Norwegian research finds that students whose true desire is to study humanities, but who end up studying science, earn less after ten years than they probably otherwise would have.

Source: Was your degree really worth it? | The Economist

Three components of the public sphere

My views on monarchy are, well, that there shouldn’t be one in my country, nor should there be any in the world. This post by Ethan Zuckerman goes into three levels of reaction around the death of Elizabeth II, but more interestingly explains his thinking behind a new experimental course he’s running this semester.

As I thought through the hundreds of ideas I wanted to share over the course of twenty-something lectures, I’ve centered on three core concepts I want to try and get across. The first is simple: democracy requires a robust and healthy public sphere, and American democracy was designed with that public sphere as a core component.

Second – and this one has taken me more time to understand – the public sphere includes at least three components: a way of knowing what’s going on in the world (news), a space for discussing public life, and whatever precursors allow individuals to participate in these discussions. For Habermas’s public sphere, those precursors included being male, wealthy, white, urban and literate… hence the need for Nancy Fraser’s recognition of subaltern counterpublics. Public schooling and libraries are anchored in the idea of enabling people to participate in the public sphere.

The third idea is that as technology and economic models change, all three of these components – the nature of news, discourse, and access – change as well. The obvious change we’re focused on is the displacement of a broadcast public sphere by a highly participatory digital public sphere, but we can see previous moments of upheaval: the rise of mass media with the penny press, the rise of propaganda as broadcast media puts increased control of the public sphere in the hands of corporations and governments.

Source: The Monarchy, the Subaltern and the Public Sphere | Ethan Zuckerman