What if I ruled the world? Or at least UVic?
Well, maybe just if I could change the university experience to whatever I wanted. Everybody’s idea of a quintessential university is different. I encourage you to think about what a utopia of learning would look like to you. I love university, don’t get me wrong, but there are definitely things that I think could be improved to suit my tastes. Are they feasible ideas? Probably not logistically, but, “dare to dream, young Padawan.” “You got it Obi-wan.”
Let’s say you’re sick or, better yet, you don’t feel like coming to class. You want to spend the day in pajamas eating frozen fruit and coconut milk or whatever your favorite in-bed snack is. Don’t worry! Log onto the live video feed of your class and enjoy yourself. Even a video posted after the lecture would be awesome.
A potential problem with this is that perhaps no-one would show up to class, but I think many students learn a lot from classroom experience and would still go. I think the freedom to have access to essential resources, like lectures, would enable students to work on their own schedule and, therefore, improve learning.
Better training for TAs
I know TAs are not experienced when marking things, but this is a part of university that can definitely be improved. I’ve had great TAs, but, more often than not, I disagree with decisions that TAs make and the marking that is done. This is by far the most frustrating part of university for me and I have had many occurrences where I get something back, review it and want to blast the TA via email. I have to step back and remember that they are just trying to do their best with the instructions they are given. Part of me starts thinking that some TAs get a little power and abuse it because of their undergraduate experience or superiority complex. This is obviously a defense mechanism to shift the blame off of myself; however, there is, inherently, subjectivity in marking certain work except multiple choice or true/false.
I hypothesize that when marking is done, work that resembles the markers work is regarded more positively. Is that fair? No, but it’s just human nature. It takes an experienced professor to mark objectively and there are certain biases that we all have in life so I don’t think human evaluation is ever truly objective. Trainee doctors (residents) must learn to operate on patients while a veteran doctor (attending) supervises. It has to work this way even though there may be some mistakes to train new doctors. To minimize errors, the training program must be excellent; therefore, improving the training for TAs is probably the answer. I understand you could say that about anything or anyone, but I’m pro-education. Imagine that.
This brings me to the whole issue of grades and if they should even be used by university. I don’t like the whole competition aspect among peers, but I do think competing against yourself is beneficial to the learning process. Look at medical school, you need a high GPA to get in, but once you’re in, it’s pass/fail. I believe it’s because they want you to learn to work as a team and not look at each other as competition.
Learning may be better for most people using the pass/fail method. It encourages teamwork. I’m going to put out a radical idea here, but start off by explaining some philosophical values I believe in. I believe that every life is equal. I put the same value on meeting Jay-Z as I would to a homeless person on the street. Whether you are a person that makes a billion dollars or a person that makes a thousand in your lifetime, I would consider your lives to be equal. Whether you die at age 20 due to a genetic disease, or die at 50 due to alcoholism you are equal in my books. Obviously, morality becomes a factor when talking about violent criminals or ISIS (depressing to think about the crimes against humanity in the Middle East), but concerning wealth, status, education, lifestyle, sex or race, I believe in equality.
Because of this, I think university is for everyone. I think a university education is valuable to all. Anyone with the desire to become a student is valuable to a university. If you ask someone who has a negative attitude about school, they most likely relate their school experience to poor evaluation (grades). Everybody learns differently and someone who is not good at taking a test is most likely good at another type of evaluation.
That’s why academic evaluation should be about choice. That’s right; you choose your method of evaluation. Want a written test? Want an interview style? How about expressing your knowledge through drawing? What about belonging to a team and doing it as a group? However you want to express yourself, you can. Do you only want to compete against yourself? No problem. Like the hyper-competitive atmosphere of everyone against each other? That’s your choice. Creativity encouraged. Evaluate based on individual improvement.
For example, I had a friend who had a lab report that had a graph and the printer cut off the graph, so he drew in the rest of it on the page. He lost a lot of marks for that move! In my opinion, give him bonus marks. He had an additional problem to tackle and he found a solution. This is fundamentally what academics is about – find solutions to problems and come to an understanding of why the problem existed.
I know most of these ideas put more on administrators and professors’ plates and, logistically, they are already doing all they can. They are also under-appreciated and, as a peer, I encourage you to let your professor know when you enjoy a class. Say hi to the janitor in the morning or the food service worker who made your lunch. We are all part of the same team and we all represent the University of Victoria. What I’m trying to say is, focus on what you can control and don’t get too hung up on things that are out of your control, but make a mental note of the changes you’d like to make if you had the chance. That opportunity might come someday and, when it does, you’ll be ready!