An Open Letter to my RDA Students

Dear RDA Students:

I write as I contemplate the grades that I should record for each of you for your work this semester. As this is an open letter and people not familiar with me or with the class might read it, I should clarify some things.  First, Research Design and Analysis 1 is the first course that psychology majors take on the road to becoming true psychologists. Students learn the one distinguishing skill that characterizes all psychologists: the ability to measure, quantify, and analyze behavior. Second, although I have been doing these things professionally for nearly 40 years, this is the first time I have taught this course. [And to those few students who rose to the challenge of the course, attended class, and put effort into your work, read this knowing that I appreciate your efforts. This does not refer to you.]

At the outset of the semester you each received a syllabus that described the material to be covered and the work that you would be expected to complete. It also indicated the consequence of turning material in late: homework more than two days late would not be accepted; papers would lose 10% per day for each day past the due date. The grading scale was presented clearly: the value of each assignment was stated, with their total summing to the 1600 points possible.  Earn 60% of these points and you pass the course, 70% for a grade of C, 80% for B, 90% for an A.

In order to proceed to RDA 2 a grade of at least C (2.0) must be earned in this course.  A grade of 2.0 indicates an understanding of the course material that might allow you to succeed in RDA 2; a grade below 2.0 has in the past characterized the student who will struggle in RDA 2, hence the department-mandated restriction on who proceeds to RDA 2.

I had very hard decisions to make. If I assigned course grades according to the scale published in the syllabus, all of you would pass the course, but more than 70% of you would not move on to RDA 2.  I do not for a moment believe that the large number of grades < 2.0 reflects a lack of ability–no, what I saw was a lack of motivation, ownership, and caring:

  • Attendance was terrible, with many of you missing lectures or labs frequently. Poor attendance affected your performance on exams and lab quizzes–if you are not present when we work through examples in class it is no surprise when you cannot work through comparable problems on an exam.
  • Written work, when it was turned in, reflected a lack of caring and attention to detail. You were given explicit information about the format of papers (for non-psychologists, this format is mandated by the American Psychological Association, and is the standard for most written work done in psychology). As an example, more than 40% of you single-spaced part of the paper, forbidden in APA style and repeatedly corrected by me in your drafts.
  • Fewer than 40% of you turned in the required draft of the final paper on time, and about 20% turned it in three days late (I guess those 100/1600 points weren’t important to the 45% who never turned it in). Success in life requires stepping up, folks.
  • The median number of studies cited in the Introductions of your research papers, meant to review the literature on your topic, was 1. 1.  ONE.  A review of the literature citing a single study stretches the meaning of  the word “review.”
  • We spent the semester learning about statistical tests that inform decisions about the result of behavioral studies. Only 55% of you correctly reported such inferential statistics in the Results section of your papers.

So what am I to do? Rather than assign the grades earned, I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt: perhaps some of you would be capable of doing well with a professor who does a better job than do I of coaxing the work out of you.  However, I cannot in good conscience pass you along to RDA 2 if you are not capable of doing the work.  So, I decided to assign as your course grade the higher of

  • one grade level above the actual calculated course grade (e.g., if you earned a 2.3 this would be 2.7), or
  • your average grade on the exams and papers (ignoring homework, drafts, and lab quizzes).

This assumes (I think reasonably) that the ability to demonstrate an understanding of the material in exams and papers is important: if you can do that you can succeed in RDA 2.  Note that this exam/paper average resulted in NO penalties for those drafts of Paper 2 that were never turned in, as I did not include the grades on drafts in these calculations.  However, some of the lowest course grades were earned by people who failed to turn in the draft on time; perhaps the final paper would have been better if it incorporated my feedback on the draft…

Life requires participation; success requires ownership. Own your work; care about your work; treat your work as if it matters. If you can’t be bothered to put effort into an assignment in a class, why should anyone expect that you will put effort into an assignment given to you by an employer, or by a mentor in graduate school?   Why should a client expect that you will put effort into helping her get better?  Why should a collaborator expect you to do your share on a project?  Demonstrate that you are willing to put effort into a project and those around you will give you the benefit of the doubt.  You need their trust and support, as the world generally does not care about you.

Sincerely,

Your caring and disappointed professor

 

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