Signalværdi i eksamensbeviset

På Overcoming Bias fortæller Robin Hanson at studenter i højere grad går på universitet for at få papirerne på, at de har været der, end at de faktisk lærer noget.

Eksemplet er, at da han arbejde på et NASA laboratorium i nærheden af Stanford, da t...

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Bruno, a fascinating anecdote! It seems worth writing up for a wider audience.

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About five years ago I studied up and got a bunch of Microsoft Certifications so I could teach the various Microsoft technical courses. I taught mainly at a local junior college that had an excellent reputation for its technical courses.

Th Microsoft, Novell, and Cisco certifications are in a senses the ultimate in credentialism. If you have the right industry credentials you can get hired much more easily than you can without them. An MCSE is worth maybe $100K - maybe more.

At first I was a bit uneasy teaching these classes because I had in fact never taken a Microsoft technical class myself. Later I discovered that none of the faculty had ever taken a course. Like me they had just read the books and taken the tests. What was more shocking was the realization that none of the hundreds of students who had attended these classes focused on preparing the student for these specific exams had ever passed even one. Let me repeat - the teachers had passed lots of exams but none had never taken a class. Hundreds of students took dozens of classes but none had ever managed to pass a single official Microsoft test.

There was, at least at that time, a perfect correlation.

The students were by no means unsatistfied. The classes were always over booked. We always turned away potential class members. The teachers also didn't seem to mind that none of their students actually succeeded.

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I have a PhD in Physics and now tenure. But my (adopted) daughter has developed a rare illness that physicians cannot seem to treat - not because there is no treatment but because of other factors like HMO's, their motivation, their knowledge/expertise, lack of genuine interest in curing an adopted Native American girl, cost, etc.

I would have been much better off if I had an MD rather than a PhD in Physics. Because life with a very ill daughter is hell and plain sad. What makes it worse is that her brother - who we adopted just last year - shows initial signs of developing a life-long version of the same illness but in a chronic form.

To get formally admitted to a medical school, I have to give up tenure and study two years of pre-med, ace the MCAT etc etc.... too many hassles and too long a process especially for someone who was born in 1960.

I thought of just sitting in for classes at medical schools. But they won't let me attend the labs, dissect human beings, etc.

I don't know why I am writing this, but if any of you have any ideas, please post or email my anti-spam address xh8061mg4heeml8@jetable.net. Thanx!

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Going to school might still be the best way to learn if one is worried about time inconsistency. (I've been reading a lot of Elster lately, so this sort of scenario is sticking in my brain, sorry.) The non-school scenario is presumably something like "at time T, I want to learn math, but at each subsequent T+n, I'd rather drink than crack the book." (This is the same sort of time-inconsistency that manifests as weakness of will wrt, e.g., the gym.)

One invests resources at time T in school in order that one is forced, on pain of losing the investment that one is making in a credential, to actually crack the math book at T+n. (Sure, that means considering sunk costs, but really, don't we all?) And part of what one buys with the initial investment is access to teachers and such that lower the cost -- even if only marginally -- of cracking the math book, e.g. because they can answer a question. Part of the problem then takes the structure outlined in one of the papers Robin linked here.

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Barkely, yes you need to learn math in the right order, but it is pretty easy to go to the campus bookstore and find the books that are being assigned for classes, and easy to look up with courses are prerequisites for other courses.

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Regarding math, there is the minor point that to read many math books seriously one needs a certain level of math already to do so. Now, it is certainly possibly for a person with strong math talent and motivation to simply work their own way up through decent textbooks from basic algebra and geometry to higher math. But to go all the way one really needs some guidance about what to read after what, and it can be very difficult if one bites off what one cannot chew, a book that depends on unexplained ideas and theorems with which one is not familiar at all, although presumably the really diligent student can backtrack to sources and eventually get it.

I was reminded of this during this past summer when in the course of revising a paper I had to deal with a relatively elementary concept in calculus that was being referred to in various ways in various papers by mathematical economists. There was a division over exactly how this idea fit in, and I found myself trying to track down a full explanation of it and exactly what it implied and did not imply and when it held and when it did not. I ended up talking to several mathematicians and mathematical economists and going through a ridiculously large number of math textbooks of various levels and more advanced monographs before finally someone pulled out one moderately advanced textbook that finally laid it out. Otherwise there would simply be vague assertions without references or proofs of this or that.

So, there is a certain argument for having some guidance about what to read next if one is moving up a ladder in terms of sophistication and difficulty in an effort to learn math on one's own.

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I see that the Dean of Admissions at MIT just got fired for claiming degrees that she did not have. Note, she was not fired for not being qualified for the job she had been doing for many years. She was fired for lying about having credentials she did not have, and clearly did not need, except to get the job.

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I think we don't even need the professor references.http://www.teach12.com/teac...There is clearly a market for the university type experience.

Now...as an education guy...the question comes to mind why do we need the whole university thing anyhow?In person classes, as compared to videos by expert teachers give you what?

1. A schedule...external motivation to continue in the face of human laziness or busy-ness.2. Realtime assistance with exercises (big in my field of IT. also big when I was teaching math)3. Question answering in realtime.4. Audience customization

5. Lower quality lecture _almost_ all the time.

On your 2nd point. grading and evaluation. I have been convinced for years that the business of evaluation of learning and the business of teaching should be firmly separated from one another. This is true most of the time in the corporate IT training market, and seems to make a notable difference in student approach, and thus student learning. Even more remarkable is the difference between classes where a certification is pursued and one where one is not in the IT world.

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Amazingly, mathy topics seems to be the subjects least likely for people to learn on their own outside of school.

A simple explanation is that this is not true, that people claim to study other topics, but they don't learn them, either. It is easier to see if someone has actually learned the math, so there is little incentive to claim to study it.

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Would there be a market for cheap, non-grading universities - backed up by professor references? You could save a lot of money by ditching the whole grading and evaluation process, maybe enough to attract quite a few of those who love learning.

And for companies, the extra risk of not having the grades may be compensated by the fact that anyone who looks high caliber, has good references and has gone through such a non-grading school must be massively self-motivated and interested in learning above signaling (so the signals they do send can be trusted).

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My first year in college I desperately wanted to take a political science class, seeing as it was an election year. The class was absolutely packed, but I was indifferent to receiving credit for the class. When I told the prof that I would be coming to class whether I got a grade or not, he immediately put me in over the class limit (and probably incurred a fire code violation). I took the class and enjoyed it.

On the other hand, I have a buddy with interests just as (if not more) diverse than mine. But he will only take courses if he receives credit *and* they work towards a major. Thus he has about four majors now, and I just can't fathom what's going on in his head. He seems to value the learning, but demand credentialing for it.

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My husband came to USA on an F-1 visa. I accompanied him on the F-2 visa.

I wasn't allowed to work on the F-2. I wasn't permitted to volunteer either, according to the Ivy League school's Director of Office of International Programs. I didn't have money to pay for school.

So I started attending (non-paying) the master's classes in Geography. I attended every single class, then started attending PhD classes since my husband hadn't graduated yet. I finished the PhD classes, helped other students write their dissertations.

Now years later I find I have four kids, and five publications in the top-2 Geography journals but only a B.A. in Geography from a third world country.

Yeah I am hopeless!

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Robin Hanson writes "Amazingly, mathy topics seems to be the subjects least likely for people to learn on their own outside of school."

Perhaps least likely, I dunno --- I can't easily compare with the number of people who read history or study painting for fun. But for some definition of mathy topic, not terribly uncommon, especially for some niches like software (algorithms, high end programming languages, coding...). I notice that it seems pretty easy to find some classic teach-yourself-mathy-thing texts on the shelves of Borders-level bookstores around here: things like _Art of Electronics_ (a good of-course-we-all-know-calculus treatment of prototyping electronics), _Numerical Recipes_, and _Introduction to Algorithms_.

It does seem to be uncommon for people to give themselves a semester or more of mathematical prerequisites (something like calculus, linear algebra, or abstract algebra) by self-study, though, so if that's all that was meant, I tentatively agree.

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now that I have attained the advanced age of 60, it is possible to audit any class at an Ohio state university campus for free. There is no credit given, there must be open seats, and it requires instructor permission. I have audited 6 courses in 2nd and 3rd year Spanish, and a field botany class. the profs were uniformly welcoming, and they offered me the option of doing homework and taking tests, or not. I always have chosen to do assignments and tests.

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Eliezer, math is one of the easiest subjects to learn without a teacher, if you have the discipline to make yourself go through a text, and can devote a large enough fraction of your time so that all your time isn't spent in review. Amazingly, mathy topics seems to be the subjects least likely for people to learn on their own outside of school.

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