When is Good Bad?

Bring the Average Up Instead of Taking Students Down

Is Being Above Average Wrong?

I was speaking to a friend of mine who was put in an interesting position.

He is a lecturer at a well known Tertiary Institute in Melbourne and he is a very meticulous, competent and conscientious person.  And this, it seems, is not regarded as a particularly desirable trait.

The big problem was that his first year students were doing too well.  Yes, really.

At first, it was assumed he was marking too easily, but after an audit the marking was found to be consistent with the organisation's expectations and processes.

Learning the Basics First is Important in Building Expertise
Learning the Basics First is Important in Building Expertise

Learning the Basics Builds a Strong Foundation for the Future

It seems that the problem was that my friend provided too much information in the form of guided references and readings.  His philosophy being that first year students needed to be "shown the ropes" and given a thorough grounding in what to do and how to approach assignments, reading and other deliverables of the course. 

He wanted to to ensure his students built the foundation in their first year, to set them up for the rest of the course.

Students still had to do the work. 

Students needed to understand the content to pass and progress.  The only difference is that my friend provides a more guided and structured approach, which has consistently resulted in better grades and a more consistent understanding of the subject matter and better grades through the rest of the course.

 Anyone who has ever approached a task or project of any degree of complexity will know that if you have not understood the basics everything you do will be a struggle.


A good grounding in the basics is vital to the success of any complex task or project
A good grounding in the basics is vital to the success of any complex task or project

Bring Students Up to their Highest Ability not Down to the Average

However, the faculty did not share his view and in effect penalised him and his students by requesting the removal of the more detailed guides and notes.  This, of course, got the desired result and moved the class average DOWN to the standard. 

Why would this be such a problem.  Remember these are first year students and a lot of whom did not have english as their first language.  Yes, I hear some of you saying but the distribution of results is skewed because of this advantage.  Ah yes, of course it is.  So bring everyone up to the level, or as suggested to my friend introduce an additonal layer to the course work for first year students that will highlight the high achievers and thus bring everything back to equilibrium without sacrificing the integrity of the learning process.

Bring Students Up Not Down to the Highest Level of Learning and Achievement
Bring Students Up Not Down to the Highest Level of Learning and Achievement

 Learning is the Foundation of Progress

The reason I am sharing this anecdote with you is that, I believe, that this attitude is the fundamental cause of our society's lack of progress.  "We" pat ourselves on the back for the advances in technology, medicine and so on, but the reality is we are living in the dark ages and this attitude which seems to be entrenched in our education system is at the heart of our ability to change and progress.

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