Monday, May 02, 2005

Grading @IITs

This is in continuation with my rather serious articles about IITs. You can say I am suffering from nostalgia or it's just a phase of introspection. Anyways, I read this article regarding grading at IITB in the past. Author has raised questions regarding the effecitveness of the grading system at IITs.
Grading is such an important issue in India, especially at highly competitive places like IITs. Talking more specifically about IITK, we will hear both sides of the story. Some appreciate grading, while for others it's not more than a civilized crime against student community.
My view- grading is important and a must have.
  • In any society, you need quantification of excellence/performance. Grading provides just that. What's the way to find out your academic performance for a company which wants to recruit you? You definitely won't submit "character certificates" from 40 different professors!!
  • I don't buy the argument that western society (specifically, american) pays less heed to grading. Grade is the measuring yardstick during admissions to US colleges. US society is afterall highly competitive too.
  • Why fear from grading? Your performance will be gauged throughout your career. It's just a small beginning. Face the reality.
So, what's the catch? Why people loathe grading, or why grading hasn't been able to emerge as the right quantification tool?
Fault lies in not the grading, but the way grading is done. Exams are given much more importance than practicals/homework/assignments. A few points:
  • In IITK, the usual marks distribution for a course is: Examinations (end sem, midsems)- 80%, homework/assignments/attendance- rest 20.It boils down to performing in 5 hours of examination, rather than throughout the semester.
  • Short cut for students- definitely, mug up just before the exams and you are through. It all depends on your ability to collect class notes, mugging the "right" things, memorization skills, and if you lack any of them, your guts to cheat :)
  • Short-cut for instructors: This grading policy is usually an easy way out for instructors. They don't have to grade assignments, take pains to solve assignments, and more importantly, catch copying in the assignments. Professors! don't blame us only, you are equally at guilt.
  • Learning curve is also low in exam based grading. To learn, you must ACT. Assignments are the only way students can really act. Perhaps, this is the reason of the famous saying- "Never depend upon an IIT Electrical engineer to fix up your wiring problems". They will keep applying Ampere's law, circuit law, etc. None applies in any practical situation :)
  • This is the reason US schools are much ahead. Emphasis is not on exams, but practicals, projects, assignments etc.
Solution- Professors, wake up! Don't simply blame us for all the bad things. Fact is that amount of effort put in by most intructors in IITK is dismal. 10 years old lecture notes,
repeated examinations, not grading answer books, poor presentation skills, etc. In one course
his semester, professor didn't have classes for one full month, and no make up too !! He didn't check mid sem copies (rumours were that he had lost those). His final words to me were- "I have more important work to do than give Fs". Amazing. Did he have a right to give any F in that course?
Professors, think and act soon!!


Anonymous said...

Very true.. could'nt agree more on each and every sentence of yours pankaj. Grading sure is supposed to be a measure of how much did you gather from the course, or how good you are at the topics, rather than testing your exam temperament. Sure - if you are good at the topics, then you have a better chance of scoring in the exams. But when your grade in the course is being decided on your performance in 5 hours, then luck does become a major factor (more than it should ideally be)! Obviously people who are good at retaining things over a day would perform well in most of the courses. Are these the students instructors would prefer?? At this level, it is important to find how well has the student has understood the topic, whether he can apply the concepts properly. Why should time be a factor in deciding this? Of course the instructors do not trust students with assignments, and that is a part where the students have to work a bit - be more mature. But the copying would reduce a lot if the grading policy is not harsh in terms of the number of F's. Another thing about copying - even the copier would understand things the instructor wants him to. Else it would be blind copying which is the easiest thing to catch.
You could still have exams with reduced weightage (quizzes) wherein the number of exams would be more and the luck factor would average out. Also, their weightage would be less. (A tip for the instructors - if a hype is created that less A's would be given, the students would themselves be less intent on showing their solutions to others!)

Nitin said...

Another nice post, Pankaj. Kudos man.

But the exhaustiveness and rigourousness of the learning curve is kind of like the holy grail in my opinion.

Take for example, my University. I go to a top 25 University here in the US and it's laughable how students make a mockery of the "practical" approach to academics. In CSCE (my branch) the number of code assignments we turn in labs (and every class has a lab which counts for 30% of the final grade) is in the region of 32+ (twice ever week). Each assignment is supposedly designed to require independent, logical and creative coding which an automated software sifts through, running checks for compilation errors, similar modules used and functionality.

The first two get thrown out of the window as students finish coding sub-components separately, share and then modify parameters in the last few minutes, compile and ta-da ! 20-30% of the total in the bag.

The problem is as much that of enforcement of sound grading policies as it is that of attitudes which we, students harbor straight through college. Enjoying what we're doing is an athema as far as acads go.

I am no different. And that's not another matter. ;)

Good post man. Enjoyed reading it.

Ankush Garg said...

I believe the whole process is cyclic. If students take assignments seriously, the instructors would love grading them which in turn will motivate them to design new questions. Lack of interest and frivolous attitude towards assignments demotivates the instructor. Although you point about poor communication skills and enthusiasm among instructors is perfectly valid.

The problem is more fundamental here. Take a look at this link, I have presented my opinion here.