Passing effect ...

Recently I was at a very useful event, involving academics, tutors etc within the Open University academic universe.

One discussion raised by an informed soul is how they have a 'Java Programming' qualification (from another organisation) yet cannot program in Java to save their life.

With an impending assignment submission and experience in reading assignment expectations. They worked out that the design element with plenty of clever words would help them acquire a probable (and therefore acquired) acceptable passing mark. Whereas those who focussed on the coding, spending less time on the design. May actually have failed the assessment.

Implicit in the admission was the notion that their code wasn't very good and that those who focussed on the code were more likely the valid Java programmers.

Sadly, I have often seen this play out in multiple arenas and understand why industry often has a cynical view of students exiting higher education. Do not get me wrong, design is important, but if the code does not work (or is simply unable to meet a basic threshold of acceptance), what value is the design.

I doubt that I get it right on the modules I design/develop/assess, but I am keen to prove that students have an exit discipline as well as all of those nice higher level cognitive attributes that universities get all excited about. If you are really good at the writing, discursive skills, you may scrape a fail. But for knowledge recall, experience, practical discipline, combined with the nice discursive element. You may get high merit or distinction.

For example, to avoid the passing effect on our Cisco MSc, when one student is good at one part of the programme, I try to split the question marks in thirds.

  • One third for practical (may go up to 40% on some assessments)
  • One third for discursive (may also reach 40% on some assessments, but never more than one out of three)
  • Also one third for recall, where the online questions used demand a not only factual recall. But an ability to synthesise this knowledge within short technical scenarios.

The effect is - you have to be good in at least two domains to get strong continuous assessment marks. The reality is the final third using online questions, has a strong link to both others. Poor synthesis of knowledge, tends to show a weakness in the practical discipline and gaps in the discursive element.

I have to both respect academic demands from my University as well as the wider 'global' expectations of the networking profession. I cannot cope with sending out students in our name that cannot 'do' networking.


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