Lab grades and larger issues

Bill Purves purves at TURING.CS.HMC.EDU
Sun Oct 26 15:16:07 EST 1997

I've been following, with great interest, the new discussion of how lab
grades should be reflected in course grades.  As with all the questions
in academe, this one has no easy answers.  As with the great majority
of questions in academe, it may be tangential to the real issues.
Perhaps one can hope to get a handle on the question after thinking
very seriously about THESE questions:

        What is the point of having a student take the course?
        That is, what's in it for the student?

        What are the maximum benefits the student can hope to
        derive from the course -- what will do the student the
        most good?  (Aside from all the other difficulties that
        inhere in that question, there is the likelihood that
        there may be very different but important benefits to
        be reaped by different students.)

        What can we, the helpers, do to maximize the likelihood
        that most of the students do really gain some of those
        desired benefits from the course?

        How can grading be made to serve most effectively in getting
        those benefits for the students?  To my mind, getting those
        benefits is the SOLE POINT of a course.

Put any dozen of us in an enclosed area to discuss those things, and
we would of course come up with a minimum of nine different answers
to each of those questions ;-)    Even so, I would be inclined to
mull over those questions before every course I was about of offer.
Besides, even if different ones of us come up with very different answers
and, as a result, approach grading very differently, our students will
most likely gain from all of us, if we've thought hard and well and
then follow through on our best thoughts.


William K. Purves               The Mona Group LLC
2817 N. Mountain Avenue        phone: 909.626.4859   
Claremont, CA 91711-1550         fax: 909.626.7030
           e-mail: purves at

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