On “Easy Classes”

The Michigan Daily ran a story yesterday identifying the “easiest classes” and “easiest graders” at Michigan (http://www.michigandaily.com/news/university-michigan-grades-easy-hard-class). I think their logic is severly flawed: they used GPA of students as the only metric to determine how “easy” that class or major is.

One of my professors, Elliot Soloway was ranked as the #1 easiest grader in the University. Professor Soloway was understandably freaked out by his rank: his colleagues will not be congratulating him for this.

I don’t think he should worry. This is the letter to the editor of the Daily I submitted yesterday:

The story “The Grading Gap” in today’s edition of the Daily criticized professors for giving easy “A”s to students in their classes. At the top of the list for “easiest graders” was EECS professor Elliot Soloway.

For those of you who don’t really know Professor Soloway, he’s quite the character and he’s crazy about smartphones and mobile applications. Each day of class begins with a run-down of current events in the technology world, ranging from discussions about AT&T buying T-Mobile to conversations about the dynamics of Facebook’s board of directors. In his two courses, EECS 497 and EECS 498, he challenges students to learn how to program for smartphones while simultaneously teaching the students about entrepreneurship and business.

Students in his classes frequently use their smartphone projects as leverage into some of the best technology companies in the country, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, as well as startup companies that have the potential to join that top tier of the technology world.

While it true that many people get good grades in the course, that’s not the reason most people take his classes. His insights and encouragement provide the platform for his students to succeed. Students get good grades in his classes because they develop amazing applications, including some that play poker automatically against real people and allow autistic children to communicate more effectively. The amount of creativity and effort put into his classes is immeasurable.

I could write for pages about this, but my point is this: grades are not the only indication of a teacher’s worth. I feel that most students who do well in his class truly earn it, and the grades students receive should not be the only metric of how “easy” or “hard” a class is.

Hopefully the Daily will think harder before publishing a similar story in the future.

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