On Your Mark(s), Get Set, Blow! (A Rant of Mini-Proportions)

I had a teacher
in Grade Seven who strongly believed that “nobody should get 100%
because nobody is perfect.” It was an interesting theory except this
person was teaching math.  To a bunch of grade seven kids. 
We're not talking about advanced calculus here or even something
subjective like English or Art where you could understand nobody being
“perfect”.  It was basic math.  And it was inevitable that
somebody would know the entire ten times table and get everything right
on a test.  And yet, when that happened, you would
get…99%. 

That's the thought in my head today having picked up my latest
assignment.  What I handed in may not have been worth 100% (or
even 99%) but it was definitely worth more than the 85% I got on it in
my (n)ever-so-humble opinion. 

I know it's stupid to get worked up about what is a very good mark in
this program but I hate that it sometimes feels like the program is
based on a range of marks from 65-85%.  Only a few of my
classmates seem to have broken the 90% barrier on the real
assignments (the ones worth more than 5% of our mark and which require
more than just filling out a worksheet) and I've never reached that
exalted plateau yet.

If there was a fault to be had with my assignment, it was that I went
far and beyond the requirements of the assignment.  It was a
two-page assignment and I did that (er, after shrinking my font and
widening my margins ) but I also handed in multiple appendices that were very thorough
with addresses, phone numbers, maps and other information relevant to
the assignment.  Hell, I called the United States to confirm one
fact which is something some library workplaces might not even let you
do!  (The call was acknowledged in the marker's comments as an
inspired technique but was followed by a rhetorical question “Would you
do this everytime?” and my non-rhetorical answer is: “Yes, of
course.  If a phone call was required to confirm a fact, I would
do it.”)   On that note, remind me to do an entry responding
to all the rhetorical questions I get on my papers.  For example: “Because I
wanted to.”  “Wasn't it obvious?”  “No.”  “Maybe.” 
“Yeah, I guess.”  “42.”

I'm doing better in this program than I ever expected (academically
speaking) after ten long years in the “real” world without an APA-style
citation to my name in all that time.  Plus, after hearing how
intense and crazy and hard this
program was from former grads, I  came in with a hope that I could
maintain a 70% average and if so, would've been more than happy. 
Now that my average is sitting closer to 80%, I'm getting a bit too
focussed on my marks and I don't like that at all.  As I said
about awards,
I know that marks are highly subjective.  Yes, awards have
guidelines for jurors and yes, academic departments have grading
guidelines.  But as someone who has served on more than one book
award jury, I know that guidelines are all they are.  I expect the
same applies to grading guidelines. 

None of these examples are from MLIS but here are some things I've heard of happening (these are all completely true):

1. prof admits he never gives a mark ending in a “9” because that all
but guarantees the student will come to ask for a bump to the next
level – ie. a 79% will ask to be an 80% and it's not worth the
hassle.  So they get a 78% or better yet, a 77%.  Then,
there's no arguing room. 

2. a student hands in the exact same undergrad paper in two separate
classes where the topic is similar enough that this can be done without
modifying the paper at all.  The student gets a 73% in one class
and a 78% in the other.

3. an overworked doctoral student asks their spouse (who only has an
undergrad degree) to mark undergrad papers for them.  No one
notices. 

4. a prof does half their marking then has a huge fight with their
significant other and the marks for the other half of the papers are
significantly lower than the first ones marked on average.

5. another busy prof bases the mark on reading the first and last pages of the assignment.

What's my point?  I shouldn't care so much about my marks, good or
bad.  The analogy I always used to describe Book Awards is
“they're closer to figure skating than ice hockey.  Instead of
knowing exactly who won at the end of the game, you get technical merit
and artistic impression scores but nobody really knows for sure how
those exact marks are arrived at.”  I think that analogy works
equally well with marks.  And sometimes you even have biased
French judges!

So yeah, someday when I'm brave and/or drunk, I'll do a real rant on
some of the other concerns I have with this program.  But for now,
I'll end on a positive note…Sabina wrote an e-mail using one of the
academic listservs that was tangentially connected to the program
(again, such a subjective line that's different for everyone.)  A
mini-flame war erupted with people accusing each other of not knowing
the proper use of the listserv, piling on, firing off missives, issuing
personal attacks and so on.  David and I discussed it and decided
to send an e-mail to Dean Leckie and a few other people in power
positions suggesting that an easy solution existed – set-up an opt-in
listserv for students who want to
discuss topics that may not be part of the mandate of the main
listservs.  Then those who think they're being “spammed” because
they have to use their delete key a couple extra times in between
erasing messages promoting penis enlargers and Nigerian get-rich-quick
scams can avoid these messages and those of us who are actually
interested in information can get even more of it. 

We got an e-mail back from Dean Leckie the same afternoon saying it was
a great idea and asking the tech folks she copied on the message to
make it happen.  Honestly, we weren't sure we'd get a positive
response,  let alone a positive one so quickly.  Very
impressive and encouraging. 

Oh, another positive (?)  I was hanging out with Sabina today and
she said she thought I should do my PhD.  Sounds like a good
idea…except you probably have to get at least one 90% in your MLIS to
be accepted!  

Classmate of the Day: As I said
before, she's not a direct classmate but Sabina gets the nod for the
great talk we had today on all manner of issues from Open Source
Software to the Spirit of Librarianship Awards to the relative merits
of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario. 

Next time…

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Yo,
    About those 9 grades….as a marker, you do that when you WANT the student to come to you, because chances are you have no idea who the heck it is and you want to tell them that they almost got it, but just not quite. You need to have a chat with them so you sort of force it.
    Anyways, I'm sure i could say something smarter but why bother. I understand that most of the world (in our world) only understands small words 😀
    Dr. Feelgood

    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 6:59 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Did you mean 'figure skating'?

    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 10:30 pm

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