Monday, December 30, 2002

Selecting professors -- by grade or student evaluation? 

Steve Frank sends along a link to Pick-A-Prof, which many people are arguing is going to do for grade inflation what the Weimar Republic did for price inflation. Steve also sent me a link to a Chicago Tribune article (requires free registration) on this site. Pick-A-Prof allows students to see the grade distribution of any faculty member. Student governments pay around $10,000 to join the list of universities where the distributions are monitored. No word yet on whether SCSU's student government will sign us up yet.

Faculty members respond with the objection that this will cause them to grade less harshly in order to maintain students. Comments like "This will turn the university into a casino" or "There will be an influence on professors to bring students into their classes by not
grading too hard," resound through the story. But the site offers more than that. One can get workload requirements, lecture styles, and exam types. Faculty can already provide this through online syllabi, but these are usually scattered around a university's website and hard to obtain. Moreover, there is concern that syllabi are being swiped and used elsewhere (state university faculty are expressing concern of their use by the two-year state colleges, which then will argue that their courses are perfect substitutes for the four-year school's offering.)

Since we're public universities, the grading information is public as well. Pick-A-Prof's price of $10,000 per school is high when compared to a more unfiltered place like MyProfessorSucks or the anti-PC NoIndoctrination.Org (which we've discussed before ). Some students are always looking for "gut classes" and have been getting the information through the grapevine for years. (In big-time college athletics it's known as "academic counseling".) But other students may look at the grades and other info on Pick-a-Prof along with the other online course evaluations and sort themselves into the classes they want and will do best in. If I did manage to have a class like that, rather than people who took my courses ill-prepared and unsuspecting of my workload requirements, maybe they'd all take A's. Wouldn't that be nice for a change?