Extra credit?

| January 02, 2002
One of my very bright freshman English students visited me at North Carolina State University the other day on a little holiday shopping spree--shopping for a grade, that is.

He explained that he was doing very well in all his classes except one math class. He was probably getting a B in that class, a B+ if he was lucky. And if only he could get an A+ in another class, he moaned, he could achieve his GPA goal.

I told him he'd certainly earned an A in my class, but would not receive an A+. He wondered, couldn't he do something for extra credit? I laughed and shook my head. Disappointed, he kicked himself that he hadn't checked the other teacher out before he signed up for her class. I asked what he meant. He explained that if he'd looked her up on pickaprof.com he would never have made this mistake. "She's a horrible teacher," he sighed. "I've tried to learn the material from the book, but it's just as bad."

Naturally I had to log on to see what I could see. Pickaprof.com is a Web site that reports on a number of schools nationwide. I scuttled over to N.C. State looking for my own name but was disappointed to find I was not in attendance. Since it's only my second semester, I figured I shouldn't take it personally.

Looking up a number of my colleagues, though, did net some interesting results. The site provides bar graphs of grade averages for professors and rather pointed comments by students. Among them: "Jesus Christ himself could not write a paper to please her," and "If given a choice between her and Satan for a teacher, I would choose Satan."

It all got me thinking. What if every student started using this site, and chose to avoid those teachers who got bad reviews. What if those teachers' enrollment numbers fell measurably? And what if other teachers' numbers rose?

I wondered, if students became empowered in this way and made Web-inspired choices about educators, would those few unresponsive teachers have to work a little harder? Would college administrators from coast to coast have to rethink the criteria for salaries and raises? Would this quantification of teaching skills have to be factored in with traditional considerations of the prestige professors convey?

I found myself imagining a world in which teachers, like entertainers, were paid by how well they pack 'em in. Madness? Maybe not. The pupil is the customer, and after all, in our consumer-driven society, isn't the customer always right?

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