Thoughts on grading

One of the best parts about teaching is grading papers. Well, if you replace “best” with “worst” or “most tedious,” that’s true. I’m celebrating Nevada Day by finishing grading the midterms from ECON 411, Social and Economic Aspects of Gaming.

What, you might wonder, would be on such a test? Here are some examples:

1. The house edge on most roulette bets is 5.26%
2. Roger Callois’ four types of games are agon, alea, ilnix, and vertigo
4. Multi-state lotteries began in 1967 in the United States.

1. Why do some jurisdictions artificially limit gaming markets, and what are the implications for the public policy and the suppliers?
2. From a utilitarian viewpoint, is gaming good public policy? What are the utilitarian arguments in favor of gaming, and what are their limitations?
3. Does blackjack skill play really give the player a chance at beating the house? In your answer, account for the difficulties of executing skill play and house counter-measures.

But professor! you might protest, if you put the questions online, won’t some smart student just google them next year and get an unfair advantage?

Actually, all the students got the questions before the test, because it was a take home. I usually give students the questions before in-class exams, too: for short answers, I might give out 25 potential questions, pick 15, and have the students answer 10. It’s my way of focusing studying on the important stuff, rather than minutiae.

If the true/false questions look like just that–minutiae–let me explain. Since the midterm was open-book, I put these small, specific questions on the test to explicitly test student’s research abilities. While they might not remember the house edge for roulette (which is, indeed, 5.26% on all bets but one), they should remember that someone along the way we discussed this, and be able to find it in their reading (in this case, Cabot and Hannum’s Practical Casino Math).

So far, the midterms have been very good. One student not only correctly answered all the true/falses, but even gave me corrected versions of the “false” answers. That’s a lot like what I would have done as a student.

Here’s the interesting fact about grading that I usually remind my students of: the word grading is its own antonym. Peter Murphy first turned me on to words that are their own antonyms back in high school, and finding them is a great semantic exercise. Anyway, here’s my reasoning:
For a professor, to grade means to sort things by quality and/or ability. Grading separates good papers from bad ones.
For a builder, grading is the process of leveling an area before starting construction.

If you don’t believe me, check out

v. grad·ed, grad·ing, grades

v. tr.

1. To arrange in steps or degrees.
2. To arrange in a series or according to a scale.
1. To determine the quality of (academic work, for example); evaluate: graded the book reports.
2. To give a grade to (a student, for example).
4. To level or smooth to a desired or horizontal gradient: bulldozers graded the road.
5. To gradate.
6. To improve the quality of (livestock) by crossbreeding with purebred stock.

You shouldn’t always use words like toys, but it’s a lot of fun.

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