Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Course Reviews

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.

This is a well known term that generally means people should actually put something on the line if they are going on so much about something. In that sense, it's a bit like 'practise what you preach' but they aren't really the same idea. However, "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" (hence forth PYM) is used by some people to talk about what people actually value. The logic is that PYM means that what people really value is what they actually spend their money on. Or, rather, what is truly valued by people is what their money goes towards. Sounds reasonable, right? We'll call this the PYM principle.

The trouble is that the logic of the PYM principle is actually flawed. Imagine, for instance, that you are a university student choosing what university to go to. Imagine that you can spend, and we're making up sums here, $30,000 p.a. to go to Cambridge or Harvard or you can spend $10,000 p.a. to go to some (relatively) local university. Now, in purely monetary terms a lot of students and their families cannot afford the first amount, but they could borrow. However, in doing that there's a lot that can go wrong: what if they don't pass/struggle etc? You're lumped with that enormous cost and the perceived risk is too large. They opt for the cheaper option. Now, is that really an issue with the PYM principle's logic? Well, maybe not because the sums aren't the same. But, our student goes to the local university all the same and they end up taking courses and borrowing money to pay for things (or not borrowing, that doesn't matter too much: they're spending the money however it is obtained). Sooner or later they reach the end of their first semester and have to make sure they've enrolled in the right things for semester two.

What's happened, though, is that our student has to pay for any and all courses that they take. Furthermore, they've finished a course that they really liked and found very interesting and they've also finished another course which they liked and found interesting. However, in the first course they got a C and felt as things were touch and go (in terms of passing), whereas in the second course they got an A+ and weren't really troubled academically. They can take further courses in discipline one or further courses in discipline two. They choose discipline two, that's where they put their money. Now, the PYM principle is telling us that discipline two is the course that they value more. However, we started off with establishing that course 1 was better liked and more interesting so that suggests the conclusion of the PYM principle is wrong. There's a reason for this.

In any decision that the student makes there are a number of factors that are involved. These factors may appear ordinal but they're not necessarily ordered in the following fashion. For some people, cost is low down and interest is higher: this order, then, is not representative (and, in fact, just what pops into my head first). So, anyway...firstly, there's the cost. Substantively, the costs for the courses aren't different (because we're not sure if substantive costs are meaningful) so they're irrelevant. Secondly, there's the level of interest and enjoyment: emotional factors. We've determined that there is a difference: this is relevant. Thirdly, there's the fact that the student is spending the money and needs a degree for the investment to pay off. Fourthly, there's the difficulty of the courses. There are probably other things as well but these are the things to consider for us. Basically, what we know is that the student needs to be able to get some sort of return from their investment (i.e. we assume that there is a high value placed on the money). This is particularly obvious if the money is borrowed but still applies even if it isn't (provided it's not coming from a scholarship*). This is huge and will dominate the students' thinking. In other words, the student chooses another course in discipline 2 because that is what is more likely to get them a degree.

What can we draw from this? Well, the PYM principle doesn't work because it may be capturing a different decision. It's fundamental idea is sound, but the PYM principle, as it is used out in the world, is used in situations where Person A opts for option 1 over, say, 2 and 3 to conclude that Option 1 must be the most valued option. There is a logical error in there because the decision factor that really matters may not have anything to do with Person's A valuation of the individual options. Rather, they could be considering some bigger picture as we saw in the example above. Thus, the PYM principle must be treated with caution and studied critically when seen in use (note, it's unlikely to be described as the PYM principle).

But wasn't this about course reviews?

Well, what we've just seen is that there's risk involved in decision making when it comes to choosing courses. There are a bunch of different ways of talking about this risk actually and there's also further ways of discussing the issue involved. Courses are services and are subject to the same problems that services in general face. As an educational service, there are also questions over the ability of a student, even having passed the course, to truly evaluate the quality. However, what we do know, in marketing theory, is that reviews are a great way of reducing the risk and providing some decision factors for students to think about. This helps students make better, more informed decisions, which helps them choose the right thing to do. Furthermore, we know that price is sometimes understood to be a mark of quality. But we also know, from economics, that when people make the wrong choices we end up with inefficient outcomes/socially undesirable ones.

I put it to you, dear reader, that there are, therefore, two arguments for why course reviewing should be a habit of more people.

1) Argument from Human Decency - Compassionate Man

Be a good person and help people make better decisions.

2) Argument from Social Responsibility - Economic Man

Help improve society by helping people make better decisions.

There's also another argument:

3) Argument from Personal Reward - Selfish Man

Yeah, that's me.

I have, on Student Course Review posted reviews, which are thoughtful and serious. for all my courses that I have received marks for. Here, (to date) I have three expansions. One on Infosys 110 which I either read way more than I thought or is the most popular blog post I've made, a joint Business 101 & 102 review (and, I have word that the course is different from second semester this year) and the third is one for History 106. I am intending on writing more expansions up, just with lesser detail for the older courses, and doing reviews for this semester's courses once I have my final mark.**

So, in theory, the discussion on PYM provides a way of getting a reader to think about the logic that I deployed in "formulating" the first two arguments.

*But there are usually terms attached to scholarships.

**The final remark, after all, does provide and indication of where the review is coming from.

1 comment:

  1. As research for another post I stumbled across this wonderful critique of PYM as a means of revealing values:

    "Behaviour is a good indicator of attitudes in the absence of constraints, but an unconstrained environment cannot normally be assumed in the developing world."

    However, I would suggest two things. Firstly, that in the developed world, more people are constrained than that paper suggests. Secondly, I would argue that the nature of the constraints are substantially and meaningfully different in rural Ethiopia.