Friday, October 2, 2009

Reading, Writing ..........and Passing Courses at 40% ?

As I prepare for my week ahead, I find myself experiencing a bit of the old "performance anxiety". I think to myself: "Nice people, interesting subject matter, a fair amount of there a catch?". I further wonder if this sense of uncertainty is directly linked to what I've read or been told about the "English Way" of grading. It works like this:

I am enrolled in a course taught Masters programme- full-time for the duration of one academic year. This is to say that I am committed to be on board with the University as a grad. student from Oct. 5, 2009 until Oct. 4, 2010. The school year is divided into three sections that I will generally refer to as fall semester, spring semester and summer session. Each semester of my programme consists of several courses (or "units") that once successfully completed, permit me the qualification to advance to the next phase (or semester of units) required for earning my degree. This fall semester is composed of the following units: 1. The Social Context of Death and Dying, 2. Ritual and Belief and 3. Research Issues. Each course is multidisciplinary (as is the whole programme) and will be convened by a number of lecturers whose backgrounds/specialties relate directly to the subject matter being discussed within the unit during any particular week. Sounds pretty normal....right?
Well, there are some things to consider. First, the assessment of my work for each unit will be based primarily on one thing: a 5,000 word essay that will allow me to choose my own topic, pursue different lines of argument, evaluate existing literature and analyze and synthesize all sorts of themes, theories, and discourses relevant to my essay topic. This means that there are no exams or even shorter papers to work into the equation. Thus, my grade is based on one (about 20 page) paper. "Ahhh..." you may think, "A 20 page paper isn't any big deal." True. It's not. However, what has been made very clear is that a 20 page length is more a matter of making things easier and time efficient for those responsible for grading. It is the "quality" of the paper that is most important when considering the grade that a student will receive. Hmmmm....
The University of Bath Student Handbook for the MSc in Death and Society Programme outlines the following:
Students submitting their essays will be required to earn a minimum of a 40% passing mark in order to successfully complete the relative unit. Furthermore, a passing mark of at least 70 % is required for a student to pass the unit with "academic distinction". So what's so odd about this? Well, for one, the rumor is that passing with something greater than 80% is generally unheard of and this is where I'm forced to recognize that I have no idea how to correlate the English system grading with the American system.
On that note, I've decided to take a 10 week (once a week) optional course on graduate writing through the University. This will hopefully provide me with a firm sense of how I need to write in order to "do a good job!".
More on Death and Dying Later, but as a side, I made a coffee date with a professor who's an American from Ohio. Very interesting fellow. He apparently has a desire to franchise the Center for Death and Society (CDAS) and integrate it's purpose into the context of American social science. I'm pretty excited about this.

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