Category Archives: Get an A on the blog

Final blog grades, 2014

The final blog grade is the best grade a student gets in the three blog periods.

The breakdown is A, 3; A-, 26, B+, 16; B, 31; B-, 37; C+, 35; C, 23; D, 9, Fail, 4.

So just 16% of the class got an A of some sort. Disappointing I think. Not sure how to get the class to achieve more. I gave extra credit for outstanding posts to just one student (use the Contributions page to check out Abigail Kennedy’s October posts).

Blog Period 3, 2014

Overall, the graders were disappointed in this blog period: with a couple of exceptions, nothing really special happened. I guess the good bloggers had done their stuff in the previous blog periods and so were happy to stick with those earlier grades (I take the best of the three blog periods). Anyhow, just over half the students participated in the third blog period. The average grade was 65% for those who did anything, or 76% for those who did enough score >60%.

The distribution: No students got an A. Two students got A-,  6 B+, 8 B, 16 B-, 20 C+, 13, C-, 14 D, and 24 fails. The fails are people who did something, but only just.

The graders and I enjoyed The Evolution of Social Learning: A Darwinian Approach, a very lucid post on a challenging topic  and Yogurt and Diabetes. Fun too are the Benefits of Giving, and Cell phones drag down your GPA. The latter made me wonder about the wisdom of my actively encouraging cell phone use in the class with the Comment Wall and the cell phone polls…. Hopefully it is really a correlation does not equal causation thing. It’s gotta be reverse causation – or third variables……surely? Someone should do the experiment.

Blog Period 2: That's more like it. Or more of the same?

Incredibly, the average grade, grade distribution and proportion of the class who did nothing was almost the same as for the First Blog Period. Fifty students did nothing and another 18 did too little to pass, 38% of the class. Last time it was 40%. The average grade among those who did enough to pass was 79%; last time it was 78%. The grade distribution was almost the same: D, 16 students; C, 20; C+, 28; B-, 22; B-, 22; B, 21, B+, 6; A-, 12, A, 3. So on the face of it, not much grounds for celebration.

On the other hand, closer inspection shows that many students are strategizing. Most of the folk who did well last time did nothing this time – under my best-score-of-three-blog-periods algorithm, they must have decided they were happy enough with their score from last time. And a lot of those that did nothing last time have come in to the game for the first time. A few of those new entrants did really well, but most did not. How could they? It was their first time trying. Among the ones who were doing things for the second time, many had taken on board the comments on the graders and really lifted their performance. That was hugely gratifying and makes the heroic efforts of the graders to give quality feedback on the work of over 140 students in less than a week all worth it. Sadly, there are some students who did not much improve from their performance last time (or got worse). Some of those will complain, and I will likely look into it and just wonder whether they read the feedback from last time, or studied examples of good practice, or took advice from the TAs. Or whether we graded too generously last time.

Speaking of examples of good practice, try Flu vaccines – yes or no? (answer: yes), Are girls better students? (the answer is a very thought yes [and that more guys should come to my review sessions]), Can positive thinking cure you? (the answer is a very thoughtful no), or indeed any of Abigail Kennedy’s outstanding October blogs.

Among many other great pieces, I recommend the following.
Does wealth cause peanut allergies?
Are blonds more desirable? (here, Anna James reports a study she did herself)
Do Brita filters help or harm? (impressive use of state government records)
Can your nose fix your spine?
Is touching human?
Soft skills to pay the bills?
Are diet sodas really the better choice? (I liked this because in class we discussed sugary sodas, which increasingly do not look good for you. Turns out that might apply to all soda. A strong argument for beer, I reckon [when you turn 21])
Does money buy happiness?
Is Facebook bad for your GPA? (answer, yes but it makes you smarter…)
Does cracking your knuckles cause arthritis?
Are more people born on Valentines day and fewer on Halloween (answer yes.)

There was some brave stuff too. Try Born GayFemale Drivers, and Sociopaths. And I want some of these toe-nibbling fish.

How many blog posts and comments?

pulling hair outGeneticist Steve Jones claims the question professors hate most is ‘will it be in the exam?’ I agree: it is such soul destroying question. But a close second on my course is ‘how many posts and comments do I need for Blog period X?’

The answer is in the syllabus, but no one reads that, or listens in class when I say. It’s easier to email the professor or text the comment wall.  Great thing about blogs is I can write one post (this one) and then link to it forever… So here is my final word on this topic for 2014:

To get an A for frequency of participation (just one element of the blog grading algorithm – see syllabus), students need to do >1 entry per week, and >3 comments per week. It doesn’t matter when they get done during the blog period (but seriously, leaving them all to the last minute guarantees they won’t be good – doing them weekly is a good strategy). Here’s how the math drops out:

Blog Period 1: 4 weeks, (4 x 1) + 1 = 5 posts; (4 x 3) + 1 = 13 comments
Blog Period 2: 5 weeks, (5 x 1) + 1 = 6 posts; (5 x 3) + 1 = 16 comments
Blog Period 3: 5 weeks, (5 x 1) + 1 = 6 posts; (5 x 3) + 1 = 16 comments.

End of story. THE END.

Blog period 1 – the procrastinators

A quarter of the class did absolutely nothing, and 15% of the class did almost nothing….! Incredible. 40% of the class has left it for later. Oh my.

Well among the ones who are making the most of the feedback and opportunities and are headed for great grades, there were some very good efforts. I much enjoyed Hugs and KissesCrying , Is Technology Too Poweful? and Mushrooms on Pooh (diapers to cows — who knew?). There is a nice integration of science and the personal in Autism and the Savant Part 2 (cunning use of two posts). Also thought-provoking: foster children and tsunamis in Switzerland (again, who knew?). Laughter is a good example of critical analysis. And Ultrasounds and Abortions is a fine example of a critical thought directed at a risky and controversial topic.

The grade distribution: A-, 13 students; B+, 8; B, 12; B-, 24; C+, 28, C, 30; D, 16. Mean grade among those who did enough to pass: 78%.

So in short, a few really great efforts, and lots of room for improvement from most people. TA Amanda wrote a great post on how to blog. I urge all students to read it. There are also lots of tips and examples of great practice from pervious years here.

But I am still staggered. Is it right that a freshman class could really have 40% procrastinators?

Blog Period 3, 2013

When reporting on the last two blog periods (1, 2), there were some excellent posts, but actually rather. I found myself scratching around to provide examples of outstanding work. This blog period, there were lots to chose from.
On so many personal levels, I really enjoyed Rejection. It is always good to someone out there is listening and thinking. And Mantis Shrimp is in a league of its own as a piece of fun writing. I gave that extra credit.
The average grade among those who participated enough to pass was 81.1%, up a few points on the previous two blog periods. Three students got an A, 5 got A-, 13 B+, 14 B, 18 B-, 14 C+, 10 C, 5 D, with 25 fails and 56 no shows.
Really special were the outstanding improvements. Some students increased their grades by more than 20% – one even by 30%. I am really pleased with those students. They seem to have taken the feedback on board, consulted with Kira and Ethan, and really lifted their game. One of the things it is all about.

Blog Period 2, 2013

Well….  Among those who did something substantive (enough to pass), the average was 78%, exactly as blog period 1, and exactly as this time last year.


Grade break down: A, 1; A-, 1; B+, 5; B, 14, B-, 20; C+, 27; C, 21: D, 9; Fail, 72, which includes 54 who did nothing.
The big difference with previous years (2012, 2011, 2010) is the lack of A’s. Before, with the same grading rubric and algorithms, we have had 15-17. This year, just two. What is going on? Why are so few students trying hard this year? It’s really hard to hard to fathom. What can I do better? I refuse to lower the bar.


The secret to staying sane as a university teacher is to focus on the students who ask for help — and the great stuff that is happening. I gave extra credit for an inspirational post on the 4 billion mile photo, not least because it fired me up to talk about it in class. Also excellent was an investigation of whether there is a Zone athletes can get into (1 and 2). There was a fabulous analysis of whether homesickness affects GPAs (which elicited some powerful comments), and a two part critical analysis of whether US murder rates are rising (1, 2). There was good stuff on personal lifestyle choices (e.g. how modern technology is interfering with sleep, whether getting up early improves your GPA), and one brave student wrestled with the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. One of the students broke new ground and did an interesting analysis of our blog, wondering why some posts attract more comments than others. She was the first in the four years of this course to ask that question; even better, she gathered some data to address it. Her ideas plus the hypotheses suggested by students who commented all remain testable: what explains this distribution? Lots of potential for more posts on that topic.

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Finally, and most uplifting as a teacher, I thought HomophobesCountry Music Suicides, and Gay Parents were excellent examples of SC200 thinking applied to a politically incendiary topics important to society. I gave them extra credit. Empowering students to think like that is one of the main reasons I teach this course.

Blog period 1, 2013

The biggest dilemma in Higher Education is to know how hard to stretch students. Students, their past and future families and society as a whole pay for College so students get extended. But how far should we academics stretch them? Increasingly, I think we need to set a bar high enough to make a real difference but not so high that the students get disillusioned by failure. And to do that, we need to ensure that the students know our high expectations and have the resources and help to surpass them. We cheat everyone otherwise. 

All very easy in theory. Sadly, inspire as much as we try, I think the only real driver that makes most students stretch is grades. Blog period 1 is where the rubber meets the road as they say, or where my teaching ‘philosophy’ clashes with the expectations of many of my students….

Average grade 62%. Among those who did anything, the average was 73%, and among those who made more than a trivial effort, the average was 78%, in line with the performance this time last year
Three students got A-, 3 got B+ and 25 students got a B. The remainder breaks down as: B-, 23; C+, 46; C, 18; D, 12; Fail, 45, including 27 who did not participate at all.
There were some really good posts (classical music & studying, immunity and berries, night owls, and anxiety and modern technology). But overall, most of the work was pretty mediocre. I worry that the Facebook generation is not used to the idea of serious work being posted on line. I also worry that students look at on-going work on the blog and assume that is what we are looking for, rather than looking at examples I have given of previous good practice. 
Students: if you are not happy with your grade, by all means talk to me about it. But first, check out the many resources on the site — examples of previous good practice, words of wisdom from your TAs and TAs from previous years — and have a good look at the grading rubric (syllabus) and the personalized feedback on Angel (Course>Refresh>Digital Expression>Grades>Report>Run). Reflect, and then stretch. You can be your own best teacher.