Cookie Culture

October is a busy month. Midterm is upon us, and events move swiftly.

This Friday, I am heading to about which I am told:

The Assessment Institute in Indianapolis is the nation’s oldest and largest event focused exclusively on outcomes assessment in higher education. We anticipate that some 1000 educators from virtually every state and several other countries will take part in the 2016 Institute.

While a younger me happily earned the title ‘peregrinating professor’, a wiser me realises I’m in for another round of conference swill meals. There’s nothing like an incompletely reconstituted egg-food to get me excited for a 9am – 4:30pm pre-institute workshop. I maintain Spartacus would have unconditionally surrendered had he ever faced such a crowd with the one box lunch that has a choc chip instead of oatmeal raisin biscuit.

Fortunately, these days, I know the culture of conferences. I’ll have my hold out bag of goldfish, and I may even bring my own cookies. If someone impresses me, I may even share a cookie with them. This is how one gains valuable professional networking from places like Nova Scotia or Nevada.

However, this also triggered in my mind a question. I know the culture of conferences, now. There was a time I did not know about the cookie-network. We also have a culture of education, and in fact, a culture of Victoria College.

To my knowledge, VC lacks a cookie-network. Although our Vice President of Instruction seems to be starting one (and I really hope they’re choc chip).

How do we communicate our culture to new students (or new employees for that matter)? Which traditions are worth maintaining and explaining, and which are simply matters of convenience?

In the past, I would have been a fierce advocate for weighted mean grading. More recently, I’ve come to believe points are a better way to go. Points you see, represent work; work done by students that results in a correct final answer achieved via a correct process. I’ve come to believe I do not care whether students are right the first time. What I care about is whether my students are learning. At the same time, work does have deadlines; that is how the world works. So, I’ve maintained my almost ironclad no-makeup practice, while I’ve morphed my percent scores to point grades.

To me, it made sense. Of course, my students still seem used to thinking about percent. They worry about how many points they earned on one assignment or another out of the total for that assignment. Thus, once again, I have a culture to communicate.

What is one thing you wish your students understood about our culture? Or, what is one thing you wish your colleagues here at VC knew about our traditions? Follow up question: How have you communicated that expectation? In the comments below, or via email, let me know what worked, and what isn’t quite working yet!



Matt Wiley is a tenured, associate professor of mathematics with awards in both mathematics education and honour student engagement. He earned an assortment of degrees in computer science, business, and pure mathematics from the University of California and Texas A&M systems. He is the director of quality enhancement at Victoria College, assisting in the development and implementation of a comprehensive assessment program to enhance institutional performance outcomes. A programmer, a published author, a mathematician, and a transformational leader, Matt has always melded his passion for writing with his joy of logical problem solving and data science. From the boardroom to the classroom, he enjoys finding dynamic ways to partner with interdisciplinary and diverse teams to make complex ideas and projects understandable and solvable.

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