Winding down

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May 3, 2010 by 8junebugs


In this last week of the spring semester, I’m pretty wiped out and ready to, I don’t know, sleep for 20 hours and wake up in a different country.

However, my presentations for my current classes are finished and presentable, my classes for summer are set (Applied Quantitative Research and Essential Skills in Digital Media Literacy), and I’m done. It’s been a huge semester, even though it’s all been real-world work instead of monster research papers. More strategy, less APA citing.

This suits me. I’m all about using knowledge, rather than writing it down in an academically approved format. Don’t get me wrong — I love research and I can do the APA stuff. But what good is knowing more stuff if it doesn’t help me do related stuff better? Besides, my concentration is in digital communications and 100 bucks says my thesis will be on social media. There isn’t a whole lot of research to read about that yet. (Some, just not a lot…as opposed to, say, guilt and fear appeals.)

I’m hoping to help change that.

Anyway, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this semester. I’m not the only one, but it sounds like I’m in the minority. I’ve heard a lot of grumbling this term — some folks want clearer grading rubrics, some want better explanations, some want templates for their work. Some are so used to grinding out As that they’ve come to view that as the only goal.

I don’t give a shit if I get an A in either class this term. I’m walking away with a brainful of immediately useful training (more on that later) and I know full well that the grades on my assignments have been directly related to the amount of time I’ve been able to give each deliverable. And I’m confident my professors know that…and are totally okay with it.

The same professor who tore me down on a paper I’d rushed through (“You can do better than this”) also told me I should be teaching the class. He’s mostly right on both, and someday? Yeah, I want to teach that class. But he’s been doing this three times as long as I have, and his perspective and experience are wicked valuable. It’s one thing to work on websites for a nonprofit, however diligently — running a successful web strategy business is another thing entirely.

My other class has involved a group project that’s been…challenging. On the whole, my team has done well. I do think the groups were just too large for the projects, though — a smaller team for each would have run more smoothly and been more like a core team on a work project.

It’s been a long semester.


Last night, a conversation ensued among my team about JHU’s nebulous “provisional” student status. Provisional status means taking an extra class with the wretched title of Introduction to Graduate Work in Communication. That’s roughly $3,000 in tuition that non-provisional students don’t have to pay. In addition to needing at least a B in that class — which is, essentially, a writing class — provisional students are also on a kind of probation. They need to get a B in their first three classes, I think, even if those classes are electives that they could otherwise pass with a C. If they don’t get a B, they’re out of the program.

I was not admitted as a provisional student. I didn’t know what that was until I realized all my classmates were griping about a class I hadn’t taken. I have met since then only a handful of other students who were not provisional admits, and none of us know what about our applications put us over the top. We’re glad, certainly, but we don’t see any more rhyme or reason to it than our provisional peers (who, it must be said, are awfully smart).

Anyway, this conversation raised some perennial complaints about a professor many of them had had, and I mentioned the experience another classmate had shared with me: She enrolled as a provisional student and signed up for the Intro class with that professor. She also took two regular classes, and I was in one of them. She did well in both of those — B or better — but missed a B in the Intro class by 3 points (B- isn’t good enough). She’s perfectly capable of grad-level work (and the prof for the class we shared is no delicate flower when it comes to grading) but the Intro prof booted her.

Now, three points isn’t a lot, particularly when you consider “participation points” and the fact that her writing showed consistent improvement throughout the semester. But her appeals were unsuccessful, and she’s out of the program and out about $9,000.

When her class started chatting, they found that about a third of them had missed the B and gotten booted. They wanted to appeal as a group and were told they could not. I’m not sure how fully 33% of a class wrote well enough to walk in the door — with references and all — and couldn’t pass a basic writing course. But then, as I mentioned, this professor is known for being…well, I’ve never met her. But I’ve never heard one good word about her classes, either.

This morning, the dean sent a blast email to the entire listserv trying to clarify “provisional.” This prompts me to wonder if one of my teammates from last night emailed her about what we’d discussed. I have an idea which teammate, because one of them responded to the dean — and to the entire listserv — asking if she could also tell us what percentage of admits are provisional, and whether that’s higher than outright acceptances.

(ETA: I talked to her tonight, and to the rest of my team, none of whom say they queried the dean after our conversation…although, realistically, would you? But it does sound like we’re not the only ones talking about it.)

I don’t think she meant to reply to everyone, but the question was well phrased and she’s clearly not the only one wondering. That question, to my knowledge, has not been answered.

(ETA: It has now. Sort of. The answer was less satisfying than the silence.)

On average, 17% of provisional students don’t pass their first class (in which pass = B). Which leads me to wonder — what is it about the other 83% that makes them provisional? The vast majority of provisional students do perfectly well in the program…much as my booted classmate was doing.

(ETA: “It’s difficult to measure” over time, but 25% of the admits for Summer 2o1o were provisional.)

So what does “provisional” mean, how and why is it applied, and what is its real value to the program and its students? (I’m getting a lot out of this program, but there are some things about higher education that I hadn’t missed…)

(ETA: I’ve worked with, talked to, and learned from “provisional” students. I would happily hire some of the classmates I know were provisional admits. This doesn’t affect me, but it bugs the hell out of me. I know some of this may be because the program is still relatively new — for 2011 admissions, they’re just starting to require GRE scores — but it seems remarkably lopsided.)


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