Fostering Community Among Students

Senator Rand Paul (Republican, Kentucky) once told medical school students that his secret to doing well in medical school was to spread false rumors about what would be on the exam so that his classmates would do worse.

This reprehensible strategy (Has anyone died because their doctor didn’t know something they should have?) only worked because his professor at the time used a scale on exams, allowing one to do better by making classmates do worse.

My goal is to foster communication and community among students. And get them used to working with others.  Aside from community being important for both human health and a healthy political system, much of people’s careers involve working productively with others.


One thing I do is that the following policies for exams:

1)  All exams—before the comprehensive final exam (and possibly a comprehensive midterm)—are take-home, where students are actively encouraged to work together.

2)  Nothing is ever scaled.  Thus, nobody has the perverse incentive to make others do worse.  It also prevents students from settling back with confidence simply because they know more than their classmates. Similarly, people who did really well  didn’t “blow the curve,” as there was no curve to blow.  Rather other students see them as potential sources of good information and higher grades and seek them out.

With these two simple tweaks, the Rand Pauls of the world won’t get ahead, and while those who learn with others do best.

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