Grade inflation or improved teaching?

July 5, 2018

The articles “Grades anatomy”  and “Bubbles and bombast” suggest that grade inflation is a cause for concern. But over the past few years, universities have invested heavily in technology such as lecture capture and virtual learning environments, which demonstrably help students to learn better.

Conferences and journals are helping lecturers to take advantage of learning technology and share effective practice. And when students have difficulty, the internet offers immediate access to high-quality resources in many forms including video, whereas not long ago only a few textbooks were available (if no one else was using them or you could afford to buy them). So it is no wonder that students are learning better and therefore obtaining higher grades.

It would be a matter of real concern over the quality of teaching if, with all their investment in learning technology, universities were not seeing their students get better results.

Tony Mann

It should at least be possible to demonstrate objectively whether or not marking is becoming more lenient. Many senior academics have used more or less the same assessment methods for several years. Grades on multiple-choice questions could be compared on identical questions prior to moderation. One could also blind-mark a pile of third-year projects from a random selection of submission years and compare the grades awarded then and now.

The same technique could be applied to essay exams. If older work were awarded higher grades now, it would strengthen the case for grade inflation. If not, the rise in grades probably has another source. That would make an interesting project, although I very much doubt that my university would support or even allow it.


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