Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cashing it in a little closer to home

For those who were there today I appreciate your commitment and effort.  You may not know this unless you have an older sibling who also went to the U of I, but we used to have classes scheduled during the week of Thanksgiving - through and including Wednesday of that week.  Of course, attendance would drop.  If you were teaching on Mon - Wed - Fri, as we used to do things, attendance on Monday would be lower than normal and attendance on Wednesday would be quite low indeed.  So they changed the Academic Calendar to give the full week off.  Today's attendance gives some evidence that there is an "endgame problem" even now, an example of what happens in repeated Prisoner's Dilemma with a known last period.  All I can add is that I'm glad our class doesn't meet on Friday.

Now that we have the model of repeated Prisoner's Dilemma to describe both what the cooperative solution looks like as well as what the solution looks like when everyone cheats, I thought you might be interested in considering college education from that perspective.

The following quote is taken from the piece cited below.  It is about something called The Disengagement Compact.  It is not uplifting to read about.  But ask yourself whether it is descriptive of some (perhaps many) of the courses you've taken.

What We’re Learning About Student Engagement from NSSE: Benchmarks for Effective Educational Practices. By: Kuh, George D.. Change , March/April 2003, Vol. 35 Issue 2, p24-32, 9p;

And this brings us to the unseemly bargain, what I call the "disengagement
compact": "I'll leave you alone if you leave me alone." That is, I won't make
you work too hard (read a lot, write a lot) so that I won't have to grade as
many papers or explain why you are not performing well. The existence of this
bargain is suggested by the fact that at a relatively low level of effort, many
students get decent grades--B's and sometimes better. There seems to be a
breakdown of shared responsibility for learning--on the part of faculty members
who allow students to get by with far less than maximal effort, and on the part
of students who are not taking full advantage of the resources institutions

I will add to this that in my observation many students seem to feel they've been tasked to memorize the instructor's lectures and to more or less confirm that expectation many instructors write exams that reward such memorization.  So this is how the Disengagement Compact may play out - a feigning of learning with little of substance actually happening.  To the extent it is widespread, it suggests massive cashing it in.

I don't want to end on a downer right before the holiday, so let me try to tie learning in a different way to being successful on the job.  The meta skill that all good students should acquire is the ability to satisfy their own curiosity to a substantial degree.  Different students might come up with alternative ways to do this.  The more extroverted might do it by networking with people and feel comfortable going to the right source who can then steer them to the information and answers the student is looking for.  The more introverted might do it via their own self-initiated investigation. Both approaches have merit and probably people need to learn how to do it both ways.

In class on Tuesday, we talked about an intern or a new employee taking the initiative and going beyond the work that was assigned.  I brought up that there is an issue about how to identify appropriate work - work that the worker has the competence to do well and work that the company will value when it has been completed.  So there is a puzzle in the identification and its exactly that sort of puzzle that should make the intern curios.  The meta skill described in the previous paragraph fits this situation to a tee.  It is not something that is acquired overnight.  There should be a lot of practice with it.  College is a good time for that.

Have a wonderful holiday and I'll see you back in class on Tuesday December 3rd.


  1. A few weeks ago, we talked about CEO pay ratios. I just saw an interesting article about this on NPR. Apparently, a European revolt is trying to stop the CEO/employee gap from widening. My favorite quote is, "I think we have to change something, because otherwise we'll go in a direction like the USA did..."

    1. Thanks for posting this. There must be something in the air, because there is an Op-Ed on the same thing in this morning's NY Times.