Well, one step forward, two steps back. Today six UK universities proudly announced they were modernizing higher ed by abandoning the old "honours" classification systems in favor of GPA's used throughout higher education elsewhere. Really? Really?
Check out this little bit of history: "[GPA] is calculated by finding the average of course grades, although sometimes weightings are used to place additional value on advanced modules. The system is credited to William Farish, an 18th-century professor of natural philosophy at the University of Cambridge. It was based on a factory grading system used to determine whether goods could be sold and thus whether the workers who made them should be paid."
In doing the research for Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (publication date, August 18, Viking Press), i came across person after person, institution after institution, using all the fabulous modern computational and data-scraping technologies of our era to pioneer meaningful real-time, in-progress useful forms of assessment. Some used actual learning feedback challenges, in the manner of game mechanics while others developed elaborate "subjective/objective" point and badging systems to determine the contribution of web developers world wide in the most detailed, nuanced, and yet easily accessible way, with peers awarding points for knowledge, expertise, inventiveness, helpfulness. TopCoder, for example, has turned "assessment" into an art form. TopCoder is a 300,000 web developer institution, the best in the world, and they don't mess around.
With all this creative rethinking of grades, why, now, would six UK universities step proudly into the future by adapting the grading system used for early 19th century factory works? I'm not sure if this makes me angry or sad but it is certainly another indication that higher education is woefully out of step with the digital age for which we should be preparing the next generation of students. If you want to read the whole, dismal even comical account, here's the url for the story in the excellent magazine Times Higher Ed: http://tinyurl.com/65tbabp )
Given the chance to reform the antiquated honors system why would you go back to a metric explicitly developed for the factory system of the industrial age? Why would you go to a primitive point system now, when we have more interesting, complex, massive machine-calculable data analytics available than ever before? Sigh. What's wrong with this picture? Let me ask that another way: What's wrong with higher ed today? Where should I begin? To paraphrase, badly, another 19th century British figure . . . Let me count the ways . . .
Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, and author of The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and the forthcoming Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (publication date, Viking Press, August 18, 2011). below. For an early, prepublication review of Now You See It in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, click here.
A starred review in the May 30 Publisher's Weekly notes: "Davidson has produced an exceptional and critically important book, one that is all-but-impossible to put down and likely to shape discussions for years to come."
For more information, visit www.nowyouseeit.net or order on Amazon.com by clicking on the book below.