My journalism education at the University of Houston

I just took a senior-level course final exam provided by the University of Houston’s Professor Dale Higginbotham while under the influence, with no studying done before hand (the whole semester), guessing most of the answers and googling the rest.  The final score was 92% in about 24 minutes.

Drinking during a final exam might seem outrageous since alcohol so greatly impairs cognition, and it was indeed left unattempted until this exam, but after taking the mid-term with similar preparation and results, I decided I would try to make the final a little more challenging, and film it and put it on the internet for the world to see.

It’s not likely that many people will find this outrageous, though – least of all the students or the school.

The school, after all, uses My Edu to organize online school data for students – such as registration, enrollment, financial aid, and other data, apparently in exchange for MyEdu using this data to make money…by telling students which classes are easiest.

As you can see, the default view for courses on MyEdu is mainly comprised of a list of professors with a grade chart next to their names.  The chart changes as you move your mouse over the names so you can quickly find the professor who gives the nicest grades.  Profiting off of helping students get through school uneducated might seem incidental next to all of the other services it provides, but considering MyEdu’s shady history it wouldn’t surprise me if this wasn’t designed to be one of the site’s main selling points.

my edu course view

Ratemyprofessors is another site students use to find easy classes – or even “hot” professors.

Here are the links for this course:

My Edu shows that one of Higginbotham’s courses has a 4.0 Average – meaning all students got As.  One course has 3.7, and the other has 3.0.  He emailed our class the statistics for my course – the median final grade was 93.  Ratemyprofessors rates his easiness as 4.7/5.0.

It’s easy to see why professors don’t want to give bad grades.  Bad grades not only hurt students-  they hurt the school – through rankings and students dropping out, but what does giving so many students good grades do?

What happens when an employer at a big company has a UH graduate in, looks at their 4.0 GPA and sees that they are completely uneducated and unprepared for life?

What value will UH degrees have as this happens more and more as a result of the business-like/capitalist nature of the school to get as much money and grow as big as it can, exchanging short term gains for long term losses.

Poor and mediocre students subsidize the rest of the school for now, but this short term thinking will eventually end up costing the university much of the prestige it constantly tries to bestow on, and buy for, itself (nevermind that it’s instructional costs are about as much as most local community colleges.)

If Mr. Higginbotham’s grade distribution and ratings aren’t enough, there are alse these very telling (in more than one way) student comments on Ratemyprofessors and MyEdu to consider:

“I was a little worried since it was a Sr. course and because it was only online, but I ended up loving it…. It’s too easy.”

” Tests are EXTREMELY easy. I cannot emphasize that enough!! Read the powerpoints ONE hour before the test and you will make an A. “

“TAKE HIM!! Easy A! “

“You would have to be absolutely comatose not to get an A+. “

“you can get an A on if you put forth any effort at all. Take this class!”

“Want an easy A just take this class. Very happy when it was recommended to me.”

“One of the easiest online classes I’ve ever taken”

” I’ve gotten 100’s on everything, I think he might just grade on whether you participate and submit something.”

“he gives you the answer… but as a counselour he’s not very helpful at all. i dont think he knows what hes doing.”

“Take this class if you need an easy A.”

It’s amazing how many students love easy courses at UH – unless you’ve ever been in one of the many degree factory classes the university provides.  Legendary comedian Bill Hicks noticed this problem from the start when he attended UH.

Also of note in this particular course – many of the courses, which came in the form of weekly blogposts, were plagiarized from various websites.

Here are some of the blogposts that contain plagiarized readings:

http://ecommerce5uh.blogspot.com/

http://wearable6computers.blogspot.com/

http://comm4378uh.blogspot.com/

http://socialiaf.blogspot.com/2010/01/week-1.html

http://tech9work.blogspot.com/2009/10/technology-in-workplace.html

http://test9work.blogspot.com/2009/10/what-makes-smartphone-smart.html

http://whoownsyourknowledge.blogspot.com/2009/11/knowledge-ownership.html

65 students paid for this course, so that’s about $65,000 in tuition and fees that the school makes for what amounts to almost no work on their behalf.  The tests are graded automatically, there’s no lecture – there’s not even much work put into plagiarizing from many different sites/mixing it up a little when putting together the plagiarized course readings.

The students can and do easily and happily learn nothing from the classes – at least probably not much more than they could learn from reading one short decent book (instead of skimming it for answers.)

In short, this is a pretty good deal for all involved – the many students who enjoy the easiness of this and other classes, the professors who don’t have to do much teaching/grading, and the school who can justify their paying approximately 3000$ per course (for adjunct professors, such as Mr. Higginbotham) to the professors who do little, and 650,000$ a year to the school president who facilitates such clever business practices.

I challenge the school to take the students from this class and retest them on this material without any advanced warning and see just how much they remember or what skills they felt they learned aside from obedience.  I would be willing to bet whatever amount that it’s close to nothing.  Of course this will never happen.  Not at UH, and probably not at any of the many other schools who must secretly know deep down that they aren’t really educating students, no matter how loosely they try to define education.

I also challenge them to handle this professor, who I will soon be reporting to the school, accordingly (they didn’t.)

More importantly, I challenge the school to look at the deeper problems in our university and be honest about them instead of obsessing over public relations, image and rankings.  I have almost never heard anything about education in the many speeches I’ve heard at this school by administrators – it’s clear they’ve taken it for granted that students will learn and professors will teach, and the only thing really left to discuss is the fine art of reaching “Tier One” – aka more financial assistance from the state.

Until we change the administration’s emphasis from fundraising, expansion and adorning the school with various rankings from the ever growing amount of prestige salesman, back to education – UH will continue to decline.  It will continue to offer more and more easy classes, and it will get older and older with no especially notable intellectual alumni (unless you count Randy Quaid or Master P) to show for it’s many years, and then no amount of “Tier One” billboards or free promotion on taxpayer funded radio will be able to fix UH’s brand/image/PR/what admins care most about.

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