Monthly Archives: November 2016

CollegeQandA asks: Should I be gaming the college system?

Should I be gaming the college system?

Gaming, in this sense, is pursuing an activity by satisfying requirements, but looking for and exploiting flaws in the rules of the system to easily and/or quickly achieve them outside the spirit of the system.  My definition does not make any mention that gaming a system is good or bad, and rule based systems are very difficult to make perfect and are almost all exploitable.

stacks of atari games

Gaming is fine depending on the goal

You have to have your own goals set to determine if gaming a system is a good or bad thing.  For example, in the tax system, if your goal is to maximize how much you and your family earn in a year, then any gaming rules that makes you pay less tax would be considered good.  Alternatively, if your goal is to help fund your societies infrastructure, then you should avoid loopholes and pay the tax that you believe your system requires.

What about education?

Again the goals you have are your guide.  Here are some examples of goals that suggest you should game the system and just get what you want:

  • I want a degree
  • I want to be called “Dr.”
  • I want letters beside my name
  • I want a 4.0 GPA
  • I want to say I’m an alumnus of school X
  • I want  degree Y so I can do activity Z

Here are some goals that suggest you should not worry about gaming the system, but instead learn the material and work hard:

  • I want to better understand how our world works
  • I want a career in field X
  • I want to develop my intellectual and cognitive abilities

Again, your goals are your goals, and I’m not here to judge there goodness or badness.  I’m, personally, biased to the later goals.  However, I think understanding the educational system and gaming it at certain times is a valid tactic.  For example, there are times in higher education where you are overwhelmed with work.  Tactically, selecting the highest priority/value work at those moments is a smart choice in my book.

Credits: photo titled: Games; by Axel Tregoning

CollegeQandA asks: How do I write a great entrance essay that gets me into elite schools?

How do I write a great entrance essay that gets me into elite schools?

This is a post title that I’ve seen much of lately.  College bound students are trying to get in the best school possible.  The reason to do this is… what is the reason to go to the best most elite school?

"Elite" spraypaint art

Why go to school X?

My general opinion on choice of schools is to go

  • In state – because of lower costs and quality of education
  • Public – lower costs and quality of education
  • Community college – for first one or two years (if credits transfer) because of lower cost, quality of education, and low risk investment to test your motivation

In other words, find the lowest cost entry point to higher education in the beginning of your higher ed path to evaluate if the institution, degrees, and learning environment are worth the huge investment.

Are there reasons to divert from this?

Of course there are.  If you and your family have the means to send you anywhere, then you should go anywhere.  For the other 99% of us, then you should question why a special school is for you (also don’t go there just because of sports team X since you can wear sports team X’s clothing and still be a fan minus the thousands of dollars in education fees).

What are the benefits of private schools?  These schools have more control over what they focus on, where their money is allocated, and what their mission is as an institution.   Their alumni network will, typically, be strong.

What are the benefits of elite schools?  These schools have the benefits of private institutions plus – These schools tend to have a student body that self-selected as the high performers in traditional schooling.  These schools have a recognition signal  (how the world perceives them) that is known world-wide instead of state, regional, or nationwide.

Is the education better at more elite schools?

Possibly.  The best students, in theory, should provide an environment and community of deep thought, inquiry, and learning.  This isn’t always the case since competitive students can continue to compete to be the best of the best at the expense of helping and creating a great learning community.

I don’t think that undergraduate education at elite schools results in significantly different outcomes.  The exception is schools that provide unique cultures that tie well to existing trends such as entrepreneurship and nontraditional educational paths.

So how do you write that essay?

Good question.  I’m of the lesser group that never tried the route of the elite.  If I had to write an essay, I would probably write about LEGO and it’s future in education.  At least that would be interesting for me to write about.  Not sure I would get in, though.

Credits: photo titled: Elite; by Daniel Lobo

CollegeQandA asks: Who assesses the assessors?

Who assesses the assessors?

To rephrase, is there any formal processes that checks if colleges, professors, and higher education are “good”.  Simply, are professors who assess students also assessed?  The simple answer is, yes, and professor assessment happens in a number of ways.

Measuring Tape up close

Promotion, Appointment, and Tenure

As an individual professor the main assessment is one or a combo of promotion, appointment, and/or tenure.

  • Tenure = typically, a decision based on a period of 3 or more years where the institution decides if you will be a member of the institution for the foreseeable future.  The criteria for tenure varies but factors in research productivity, teaching ability, and service to the university.
  • Promotion = this is an institutional decision to promote someone to a higher position.  This is similar to climbing the ladder in large corporations.  Criteria for promotion varies and are similar to tenure, but expectations tend to increase as the ladder is climbed.
  • Appointments = some institutions don’t have tenure and instead use X year appointments.  After X years are complete reappointment is determined based on meeting criteria similar to above.

In each of these individual assessments, a professor or educator is judged on criteria of productivity.  What this means to a student is that a “full professor” or “university professor” means that the person has been promoted to some of the highest levels of the institution, but it might be due to their research productivity more than their teaching ability (and typically this is more often the truth).  Higher ed is not just about learning at the undergraduate level, and a major push is learning at the frontier of human understanding.

Assessment agencies

Beyond the individual, there is also institutional assessments at every level.  For example, engineering departments have the option of being assessed and accredited by ABET.

For these types of accreditation (an award of meeting some standard set by the accreditation agency), programs have to show measurable results on various factors.  For example, what percentage of students are gainfully employed after graduation?  How many students are failing?  These measurements are an attempt to evaluate the institution and the quality of its respective programs.

A world of measuring and setting bars

The reality of assessment – student, professor, institution – is we like to measure things and set bars.  Look at all the school ratings that are generated each year.  With measurements we can compare us to you and you to us.  Is that a good thing?  My feel is that we overly rely on measurement, and the world is too complex to simply measure.

One of our next big philosophical leaps will come from a shift from our love of the simplicity of quantity.

Credits: photo titled: Measuring tape ; by Sean MacEntee