Monthly Archives: March 2009

Mentoring Graduate Students

Some of us mentor doctoral students. I had a positive experience as a student, but I understand from others that there can be a great deal of variance in the quality of the relationship from the points of view of both the professor and student. There’s apparently so much variance that the graduate student senate of which I was a member from 2000-2004 published a “how-to” guide (“A Mentoring Guidebook for Faculty: helping graduate students grow into respected professionals and trusted colleagues”; pdf; general webpage). It is with their gracious permission that I am posting the above links for others who might benefit. The authors tell me that their guide is an adaptation of those of Michigan (“How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty at a Diverse University“) and Univ. of Washington (“How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Faculty Guide“). Of interest?

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Guest Post: Orpheus in the Businessworld ossia Thinking Outside the Box

The following is a guest post from Dennis Slavin, Associate Provost for Faculty Development at Baruch College. He can be reached at

About ten years ago the (then) executive director of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Harvey Seifter, approached me with a novel idea: a residency for Orpheus at Baruch College. Those of you who know about the longtime residency here of the Alexander String Quartet might question the novelty, but this was a different concept. Instead of bringing music to arts and science classes and demonstrating links-to classical or romantic styles, or to narrative techniques or mathematical relationships etc.-the idea was to have business students sit in on an actual Orpheus rehearsal.

If you don’t know Orpheus, my point is obscure. Orpheus is an orchestra that functions (wonderfully) without a conductor. The idea was (and still is) to demonstrate the actual working of a “flat management system” in real time. There’s nothing staged: these are real rehearsals for upcoming performances. Sitting in on these sessions, we heard many serious discussions about significant matters of interpretation; there were lots of conflicts, lots of resolutions, and lots of lessons to be learned by our MBA students.

Ten years on, Orpheus continues to be in residence with our MBA program and honors undergraduates. I haven’t been involved in years, but the Zicklin School keeps asking them back.

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How elite are we?

Did you see “Disadvantages of an Elite Education” (American Scholar, 2008) in which former Yale professor William Deresiewicz contrasts the education at Yale and Cleveland State, an inner-city university much like Baruch? The article was unexpectedly thought provoking. For example, consider this:

“[S]tudents at places like Yale get an endless string of second chances. Not so at places like Cleveland State. My friend once got a D in a class in which she’d been running an A because she was coming off a waitressing shift and had to hand in her term paper an hour late.

“That may be an extreme example, but it is unthinkable at an elite school. Just as unthinkably, she had no one to appeal to. Students at places like Cleveland State, unlike those at places like Yale, don’t have a platoon of advisers and tutors and deans to write out excuses for late work, give them extra help when they need it, pick them up when they fall down. They get their education wholesale, from an indifferent bureaucracy.”

It’s not that I agree with all the arguments in the essay, but Deresiewicz asks an important question: where do you fall on the spectrum of “indifferent” to “pampering”? The essay also gives one newfound appreciation for our students.

There was another recent attack on the elite colleges—Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Chris Hedges’ 9-Dec-2008 essay “The Best and the Brightest Have Led America Off a Cliff“—but skip it if you are looking for uplifting news.


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A+ . . . Despite Heavy Accent

Question: A student gives a presentation. He has a heavy foreign accent and is at times incomprehensible. Overall, the speech seems well researched and on target. What do you do?

a. Give him an A.

b. Subtract points for incomprehensibility and give him a B.

c. Tell him that the presentation was unacceptable and that he should improve his oral communication proficiency.

Instructors cite a variety of reasons (often with a kernel of truth) why they let incomprehensibility slide:

1. “Asking a student to reduce his/her accent is embarrassing and discouraging.” — It is true that accents are windows to our identity, and that a student changing his/her accent may experience a tangible sense of loss or feel repercussions from home culture friends and family.


Posted in Assessing Learning, Communication Skills, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Why Post Grades on Blackboard?

Did you see the article “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes” by Max Roosevelt in the 18-Feb-2009 NY Times? The article asserts that students are feeling more entitled to high grades than in years past.

I made a small change about five years ago that significantly reduced the number of end-of-semester grade disputes. I wonder how many of my colleagues do the same. It’s simple: after every graded assignment—homework, quiz, project, exam, presentation, whatever—post the student grades on Blackboard (see the “Grade Center” in Blackboard 8.0’s control panel, formerly called “Gradebook” in version 7.0).

At all times during the semester, students can check their running tally. And they do. The C and B students who would otherwise fight at the end of the semester now know where they stand from day 1. Rather than holding a discussion at the end of the term, we talk about how the student can meet my standards months earlier.

I know students can keep their own running tally as we hand back every graded assignment—they don’t need Blackboard for this information. But by posting their grades, we communicate transparently our understanding of their performance, as well as any assignments that are missing. In addition to the student’s individual scores, the student also sees class statistics (mean, std. dev., high, low, etc.). It’s also a good “quality inspection” to eliminate grade book errors. (What, you never entered an 87% as a 78%?).

There are some downsides. First, it takes five or ten extra minutes per assignment to upload a grade spreadsheet into Blackboard, and entering the grades directly into the Blackboard grade book is not much better due to a gludgy interface. Second, some students obsess about their grades resulting in two issues: being hounded with emails 48 hours after an assignment was collected (where’s my grade?), and an apparent gradebook-checking obsession among some (if only they would dedicate as much energy to the readings).

Posted in Communicating and Managing Expectations, Grading, Uncategorized | 5 Comments