I’ll grade higher next semester, you bet

I came across an article in TechEdge, titled CVC And MyEdu Join Forces. CVC is California Virtual Campus, a project financed by the Chancellor’s Office via various grants, and whose tasks are now divided up among several colleges. The article said CVC and MyEdu were teaming up to help students figure out their college career.

I’d never heard of MyEDU. One of the “services” it provides was listed in the article as “Course Fit: Analyze course data and reviews for best-fitting class selection”.

This got me curious, so I went to MyEDU. I made an account, and looked around. I found information about me and my classes.

Except the first three weren’t my classes – I’ve never taught them, though a colleague of mine does. I followed the “View Grades/Courses” link.

There were seven courses (all with my name, though three weren’t mine), a place for reviews and comments by students and colleagues (blank as yet). And something strange for each class: my grade distribution.

Grade distribution is the record of how many As, Bs, etc an instructor gives. We have the stats available to us on closed systems for our program reviews (by discipline, not by course or instructor). I’ve never seen these in public. This site has not only everyone’s grade distribution, but trends indicating whether the instructor was likely to grade higher or lower this semester for each class!

The site claims they got all stats from the official records of each “university”. (Of course, this is a community college, and a commercial company hooked up to a Chancellor’s Office organization. The application seems neither finished nor ready for public consumption.)

Now, personally, I couldn’t care less whether people can see my grade distribution or, indeed, almost any of my work. But there are faculty evalution implications here, and more.

And no, it’s not the same as at RateMyProfessors.com, which is entirely voluntary and not connected to any school or organization. It is completely unofficial.

This is official because of the CVC connection, and it is inaccurate. It even shows a “drop rate” (I’m not sure the basis for it, whether it’s from the number of Ws out of the total or what, but it’s also inaccurate for most of my classes).

I had two outstanding sections of this particular class last semester, but this makes it look like I grade really high, which is deceptive. The grades depend on the students, not whether I grade ‘easy’ or ‘hard’.

BUT, more importantly than any claims to privacy or confidentiality (which I don’t think would be supportable anyway as public employees), and more important than the possible internal consequences of seeing everyone’s grades, there is one large issue.

The site is set up to “help” students, but projecting grading tendencies has one purpose: to help the student choose classes not by their quality or usefulness, but by the easiness of the grading of an instructor. The “drop rate” implies that if a lot of students drop the class, you shouldn’t take it.

The article makes it clear what the goal is. The “results” MyEdu has provided are:

• Increased percentage of students that obtain a degree on time by 35 percent
• Improved student GPA

And according to its VP of Corporate Marketing (how’s that for an educational title?):

“The use of MyEdu’s applications have proven to cut college costs by up to 20 percent by reducing the amount of time it takes to earn a degree and helping students stay on track. MyEdu has helped more than two million students graduate from college and prepare for joining the workforce,” Holst said.

So the California Community Colleges are now in the business of partnering with corporations whose main goal is to get students through college with as much ease as possible. To do this, they are “leveraging social technologies”.

Now California Virtual Campus has focused on online education for years, so I know them well. They used to give out awards for best online classes, and they used to create units for professional development until they had to split up the duties among colleges. There were funding issues. But now CVC notes:

While CVC has a distance education focus, it advocates the use of MyEdu for online and traditional students at all of California’s campuses and recommends that California’s community colleges explore the tools that MyEdu offers students for free.

In fact, this application has nothing to do with online education or virtual campuses. But it’s free to students, and it can “cut college costs by up to 20 percent by reducing the amount of time it takes to earn a degree and helping students stay on track”.

How? By marketing community colleges as bookie joints where you use the stats to place your bets. One of my colleagues said it’s like watching a very slow train wreck. I have to agree.

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