22 November 2012
I have been spending the evening tonight grading papers and my thoughts have wondered to something that I often enjoy discussing with my students around the idea of grades
(a small caveat, I don't usually bring this up in my online courses as it is open for misinterpretation that I can't read on my student's faces when recording a video lecture. )
I often present to students the idea that a big part of college is not what you are actually learning in any given course (unless you are in the "hard sciences") but rather the idea that by finishing college you are signaling to potential employers that you are able to finish what you have started, as well as apply yourself to the long process of getting a degree. This includes dealing with bureaucracy (as any UMass student can testify to) as well as the social / cultural skills of interpreting what different professors with different personalities / goals in education think to be important. It is not learning introductory economics that earns you an A in my course it is learning how to figure out what someone like me thinks is important to memorize / do. Show up, participate, whatever...
This is of course not really the case, but there is some truth in the signaling model. Success after college is a mixture of what you have learned, and the ability to show that you were capable of learning it, and all the effort that goes into getting through college beyond the course material.
Like it or not, (and I generally don't), part of our job as professors is to rank our students for their future employers. Part of this rank is a student being able to signal to a future boss that they are productive and highly exploitable. A portion of my role is to help the student show just how good they will be at getting exploited. Gotta love capitalism.