Grazing - a personal blog from Steve Ehrmann

Steve Ehrmann is an author, speaker, and consultant.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dysfunctional Illusions of Rigor

Several years ago, Craig Nelson wrote a book chapter attacking 'dysfunctional illusions of rigor.'  There were seven ideas about rigor which he no longer believed:
  1. Hard courses weed out weak students. When students fail it is primarily due to inability, weak preparation, or lack of effort.
  2. Traditional methods of instruction offer effective ways of teaching content to undergraduates. Modes that pamper students teach less.
  3. Massive grade inflation is a corruption of standards. Unusually high average grades are the result of faculty giving unjustified grades.
  4. Students should come to us knowing how to read, write, and do essay and multiple-choice questions.
  5. Traditional methods of instruction are unbiased and equally fair to a range of diverse students of good ability.
  6. It is essential that students hand in papers on time and take exams on time. Giving them flexibility and a second chance is pampering the students.
  7. If we cover more content, the students will learn more content.
"Rigor" is a term I've heard used frequently in conversations about college courses, but rarely (until now) defined. Nelson's book chapter, adapted in Tomorrow's Professor 1058 and 1059, explains the problems inherent in each of those illusions, and suggests a way of defining rigor that is more likely to educate students than to repel or reject them.  (For example, he discovered that giving every exam twice and allowing students to use the better of the two grades actually improved student learning because most of them studied twice for each exam.)  Although the extensive data Nelson cites come mainly from science and mathematics education research in colleges, most of his argument applies equally well to other fields. 

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