When I’m a professor…

June 24, 2006

Many believe the best form of education is that in which all students are taught the same material at the same rate (thereby allowing everyone to receive the same education). In particular, the Japanese style of education requires all students, whether they have learning disabilities or brilliance, be taught together, at a unified level. To this end, many see that, as a whole, Japanese students are more intelligent than their counterparts in the West. The downside, and one of the largest problems their education system has to face, is that there are relatively few truly exceptional students.

In America, and much of the West, we tend to use a multi-tiered system that allows for more individually-tailored experience. We allow students to take the same basic subjects but at different paces, creating "remedial" classes on one hand and "AP" and "Honors" classes on the other. In theory, by seperating students in to three groups, those who need extra help, those who are progressing at a normal rate, and those who need more challenges, we educate everyone to the best of his/her abilities.

This division creates difficulty in that it creates not only superiority and inferiority complexes, but also instills a sense of mediocrity in those that are progressing at a healthy rate. With divisions so blatant that students refer to classes as "dumb-people calculus" and "Einstein physics", we create another problem. At this point, many are no longer speaking of a student's academic ability, but rather a student as a whole. No one wants to be considered the "dumb-person," but what choice is there when you are enrolled in "dumb-people" classes?

I propose a solution to both dilemmas that lies closer to individualized education. Hopefully, by creating more distinctions between students, we will erase the problems inherent in a hierarchical system. In theory, students will be divided to the point where a division holds at most 10 or so people. This would create a sort of "class rank" system, where divisions should seem rather arbitrary. Think of it, what's the difference between a 73 and a 77 on a 100 point scale? 4%; a twenty-fifth; relatively nothing. Further, if we increased the amount of students in each division, we would cut the "Number One" syndrome, as we'd have several students that all of about the same caliber at this highest level.

The theory I propose moves us towards this ultimate goal by offering students an option in workload. Given any assignment, a student will be able to perform the bare minimum, the full assignment, or an extended assignment. Here's the basic setup:

 Bare Essentials: This will cover the absolute minimum a student should absorb from a class. The highest a student can receive on any assignment in which he/she does only the bare minimum is a C (appxy 70-75%). About 2/3 of the class time should be spent on these essentials, as they are the foundations of all other work.

Full Course load: This is the equivalent of a standard class  taught today. This work builds on the essentials, and allows students to receive full credit on assignments. Most students would fall in this category, as it is the standard workload. Students would be required to work all bare essential problems as well as all full course problems to receive full points. Approximately one third of class time will be devoted to this tier.

Extended Curriculum: When students complete both the minimum and full problems, they may wish to finish some extra problems for a very small amount of extra credit. The amount of extra credit will not be proportional to the work load. In theory, the highest a student can receive on an assignment is 105% while the breakdown may be 10 essential, 4 full, and 3 extended. Almost no class time will be devoted to covering this curriculum, but further resources will be provided (especially websites, etc).

This method of education would be much harder on professors, as they would have to make divisions and be required to find and read further resources as well as create additional problems for the extended curriculum. However, it would offer students more opportunities to do the amount of work they want, especially when learning the extended curriculum. Also, if this system is implemented, students would not be required to perform at the same level for every assignment. Better still, the amount of effort put in to any assignment is strictly the knowledge of the professor and the student, so the complexes mentioned before may not appear within the classroom.

Any thoughts? 


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