Independent A

Jill posts a note about the switch to a lettered grading system in Norway, and links to a description of each grade (English translation at the bottom). I found the wording interesting. For an A, the expectation is “An excellent performance, clearly outstanding. Shows a high degree of independence.” While the first part is familiar, the second is interesting. The higher grade is linked to a greater degree of independence.

One of the reasons this is interesting is I’m not sure just what it means. Does it mean that they have integrated the knowledge into their own world in a unique way? Does it mean, basically, that they are capable of transforming or utilizing the knowledge.

And is independence a primary goal, or indeed a goal at all, of education? In some ways, does this not devalue work that is done as a team. Take, for instance, one of Jill’s examples: do we want nurses who are pushed toward independence?

That said, the phrase does strike me in a very positive way. It may just be that “independence” is one of those positive-sounding words. This morning I was in a meeting where we decided what to call an upcoming conference on scholarly communication, and I was drawn to “Innovations in Scholarly Communication” for no reason (I suspect) other than the fact that I like the word “innovation.” (I am proud to say that the group picked one of my suggestions: “Publishing the future: Scholarly communication in an information age.”)

In any case, I like the idea of student being independent, and that description probably meshes well with who gets As in my classes. I’ve usually translated it somewhat differently, especially at the graduate level: “Teach me something I don’t know.” I’ve told students that if they can do that, they are almost guaranteed an A. The truth is, that isn’t that difficult–my regions of ignorance are boundless. Yet students are so conformist (and I think the university helps to ensure this), that it is often difficult for them to, as Apple says, “Think Different.”

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  1. Posted 8/20/2003 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    As a certified secondary school teacher with my beloved B.Ed. I always check out how letter grades are defined. Of course, they are defined so that instructors have a common baseline on which to assign summative evaluations in a format that stats jokers can grokk, and students have some recourse to some description to tell them why they got the mark that is hopefully vague enough to confuse them. What the text description actually means is unimportant. Or as important as putting a number on learning. It is a social convention that is expected.

    What scares me are phrases like ” do we want nurses who are pushed toward independence”. Do we want them striving towards mindless servitude? Or worse, do we think that ‘we’ should be deciding on how we should limit learning? Ya, we want frigging independent nurses… like the ones who decide to criticize the overworked doctor’s opinion because he’s missed the vital clue that her independence noticed.

    “Teach me something I don’t know.” is neater though. Does that mean that if I teach you to make farting noises with your hands, if you don’t know already how (and actually I don’t either) I get an A+?

    But when I hear “my regions of ignorance are boundless” then I know I’m in good company. As I put it, “the only thing greater than my vast knowledge is my ever expanding ignorance.” Thanks for the morning smile… and I look forward to having a drink (somewhere on the fruit juice to scotch continuum) when you arrive.

  2. Posted 8/20/2003 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Yes on the farting noises. After all, if I could define the nature of what they should be teaching me, I wouldn’t really be learning much.

    Yes, of course we want independent thinkers, nurses included. And I am mostly playing devil’s advocate in worrying whether this should be held up above other skills, including collaboration or communicating that knowledge. I said nothing of “mindless servitude” :). I am sure you can think of a counterexample: the nurse who is so confident of his own opinion that he consistently contradicts the doctors’ orders, refuses to share duties with the other nurses, and practices raelian medicine on the sly. There is such a thing as a happy medium.

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