Social Networking Gets Everyone an A

David Wagner, Managing Editor | 2/7/2013 | 25 comments

David Wagner
Two entire classes at the Johns Hopkins School of Engineering got perfect scores on their final exams because of social networking.

No, they didn't steal the exams and share the answers. They didn't find a better way to study as a group. They just all agreed not to show up.

Granted, it took a special set of circumstances for this to work. Nevertheless, it shows a startling change in education. In his "Intermediate Programming" and "Introduction to Programming for Scientists and Engineers" classes, Prof. Peter Froehlich announces on his syllabus that all grades are "relative to the highest actually achieved score." In other words, if everyone got a zero, they would all get an A.

According to this Johns Hopkins Newsletter article, Froehlich reminds students of the rule at the end of each semester, almost as a challenge. This past fall, the classes took him up on it. Some fraternity brothers reportedly blocked the doors to stop anyone who got nervous about skipping the exam.

Prof. Froehlich didn't say in the article whether he would change his grading policy, but you can bet he'll have to change it. The precedent has been set.

The issue, of course, isn't two very clever and brave groups of students. It's the changing reality of what a class means.

Before social networks, students attempting such a feat would have relied on physical and phone contact. Both are harder to achieve. More importantly, before social networking, a class was a loose body of individuals. Even with group work and campus directories, contact between the students would have been limited except in very small classes. Organizing an entire class of any reasonable size would have taken a lot of time and effort.

The advantages of social networking, of course, are available for students and professors. If students can organize to boycott an exam or to study together, professors can easily reach students and expect collaboration from them.

Since collaboration is one of the most sought-after skills in the workplace, we might be seeing a revolution in the skills people bring into the workplace. At any rate, this is something professors can and should cultivate.

Group exams, tasks that requires people to work in concert, and exercises in how information is transmitted and exchanged all need to be part of the 21st century curriculum. Even if most professors haven't realized this yet, Prof. Froehlich and his students certainly did.

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Syerita Turner   Social Networking Gets Everyone an A   2/21/2013 8:29:22 AM
Re: Interesting...
Very interesting and funny. Yes he will definitely need to make some changes. But I give the students a thumb up for trying it to see if it was true and worked. Social media is already hitting the high schools as now in some schools it is in the syllabus to own a Facebook account for collaboration and to get assignments, study guides etc. Teachers are believing that their students are already on there so they might as well use it for something educational.
Henrisha   Social Networking Gets Everyone an A   2/13/2013 12:00:59 PM
Re: Learning new ways
Exactly! I like his style of teaching and it certainly eases up the pressure on getting a good grade and emphasizes learning--social learning at that. I wish I had a professor like when I was still in school.
Susan Fourtané   Social Networking Gets Everyone an A   2/13/2013 2:33:31 AM
Re: Learning new ways

I believe he is a think outside the box kind of prefessor. Many more like him are needed. 

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Susan Nunziata   Social Networking Gets Everyone an A   2/12/2013 11:59:10 PM
Re: Interesting...
@Curt: Indeed. can you get us the prof on a radio show? :)
Susan Nunziata   Social Networking Gets Everyone an A   2/12/2013 11:49:19 PM
Re: The great collaboration of doing nothing
@Rich: Good point. that is probably the part of this that sits most uneasily with me as well. In that sense, we're talking about an example of "mob rule." and once again, students who allowed themselves to be blocked from entering the room learned an important lesson as well about standing up against "group think." In all ways, this was a learning experience IMHO.
Susan Nunziata   Social Networking Gets Everyone an A   2/12/2013 11:47:50 PM
Re: The great collaboration of doing nothing
@kstaron: I understand your perspective and respect it. I seee a group of students who spotted a loophole and collaborated to take action to essentially exploit that loophole. Ethics aside, it's not a bad skillset to have in today's dog-eat-dog corporate environment.
Susan Nunziata   Social Networking Gets Everyone an A   2/12/2013 11:44:33 PM
Re: Interesting...
@Kicheko: That's an excellent point. Such an experiment would be enhanced by social media for sure. But I can imagine it being accomplished even prior to the ease of communication that social media makes possible. We can look to the activities of Union organizers in the early 20th century for low-tech examples of creating action via Word of Mouth.
Susan Nunziata   Social Networking Gets Everyone an A   2/12/2013 11:35:57 PM
Re: Learning new ways
@SusanF: Hear, Hear! Agreed 100%.
Rich Krajewski   Social Networking Gets Everyone an A   2/11/2013 4:12:48 PM
Re: The great collaboration of doing nothing
Also, I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned the ethical violation inherent in physically preventing another student from taking the test. Those violations, involving perhaps criminal restraint, should have resulted in expulsions.
Rich Krajewski   Social Networking Gets Everyone an A   2/11/2013 3:36:55 PM
Re: The great collaboration of doing nothing
A serious student wants the information. The grade should be secondary, in my opinion. The object should be knowledge and understanding, not grades, although I understand how bureaucratically useful grades are.

These student social networking games aside, the nice thing about the Internet is that, while there is a lot of junk out there, there is also a lot of gold that is now more available and easier to study. Library searches are lightning fast. Unfortunately, computerized indexing is too exactly "term-dependent," and perhaps not always as concept-linked as the older systems of library categorization, or that is my impression when I type in a category and get back only exact matches to the term.
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