The expectations gap

Here’s an interesting little NYT article on the gulf between the grades students expect to receive in their college classes versus the grades they actually earn:

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

Some college educators refer to this as the “I paid my fee, gimme my B” phenomenon.  The only thing about this study’s results that surprises me is that only a third of the surveyed students expected to get an above-average grade just for showing up.

This leads into a more revealing quote from an interviewed student:

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood [the interviewed student] said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

How about demonstrating mastery of the course competencies?  A course grade that’s higher than average should denote that a student has a higher-than-average proficiency with the material covered in the course.  That’s it.

The student continues:

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” […] “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

Except that the grade reflects mastery of material rather than how much time a student spent sitting at his desk with his textbook and his iPhone.

It’s not quoted in the article, but from my own experiences there’s another underlying issue with student expectations.  Students think that they’re working a lot harder at a course than they really are.  I’ve had students who sincerely believe they’re putting in lots of effort towards a course when I talk to them about what went horribly wrong on their tests.  Here’s how the discussions typically run.

Student:  “I don’t understand why I did so badly on the test.  I studied really hard.”

Me: “Okay.  Well let’s see if we can work out how to get you to do better on the next test.  Let’s take a look at some of the study guide problems you worked out while you were getting ready for the test.  Maybe we can find out what was giving you trouble”   (I teach chemistry, which is very much a problem-solving course.  I give my students study guides complete with practice problems for every unit of material we cover, as well as additional practice sets with solutions on my course web site.)

Student: “Umm…”

Me:  “I think I see the problem.  How did you prepare for this test?”

The student usually says something at this point about “rereading the notes” or “looking at the book”.  While these things might be a small part of preparing for a problem-solving text, most of the actual preparation should be, well, practicing how to solve problems.

Even though glancing at the course notes and skimming over the textbook really isn’t putting real effort towards a class, most of these students I talk to about their study habits seem to think it is.  And that’s what’s really wrong with the student quote above.

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.