Giving college students reputations

Too many teens develop negative reputations that haunt them for decades. College experiences could free them from this burden if they were designed to deliver that benefit. A minority of college students already encounter a helpful mentor among the faculty, TA's or RA's. However, the majority get their negative reputations reinforced even if they were initially created by unjustified cheap shots. The students take these toxic stereotypes to heart and act them out repeatedly. They fail to develop self respect or a sense that they could do further harm to their reputation. They presume they have nothing to lose by being true to the ways they have been labeled. To defy their reputation would result in some serious cognitive dissonance unless they had an insightful guide at their side.

The world of online sellers, buyers, renters and content providers has provided a partial solution to this problem. We now get rated for how well we did, how valuable we were for others and how popular we've become. We're accumulating scores, stars, rankings and lots of other stats. We acquire reputations in the process which indicate to strangers how much we can be trusted. This functions as a setup to be on our best behavior.

Those that give us ratings are mostly getting rated also. There are open archives of the comments, ratings and votes we've received. Giving reputations goes both ways. It's very different from where the raters neither get rated by other raters or reveal the grades they received from the professor. It's also very different from an entire class getting bad grades on a test without that data reflecting on the instructor, textbook or test that was administered. The online world for giving each other reputations and cultivating trust mostly shares responsibility for outcomes. Nearly everyone develops a positive reputation, self respect and a sense of how much harm they could do to either with reckless behavior.

Early in my dozen years of college teaching, every student in one class gave me perfect scores on the faculty evaluation forms at the end of the quarter. I had previously disclosed to them how I was critical of the ways I had taught the course. I admitted I had fallen short of my own expectations. I felt I had let them down. Their numeric and anecdotal feedback told me I was being over-critical of my efforts and unaware of how my teaching compared favorably to other instructors. This experience taught my how contextual our reputations really are. We do not get rated in isolation or strictly on the merits of our conduct. The context of our self evaluation and relatively standing among peers counts for a lot. People give us what they think we need to hear to strike a good balance between over-confidence and excessive self-censure. They show us how we compare to others as well.

College students need to be given reputations with all this in mind. They need to reveal how they are already critical of themselves, their conduct and their results. They need to compare themselves to others and also get permission to be unique. They may need some guidance for improving their reputations and support for outgrowing their negative reputations. Their reputations need to be more nuanced than being known as a "good student" or "trusted friend". They need to nurture the cultivation of their personal reputations in the contexts of academic pursuits like they already do in ecommerce, gaming and social networking platforms.

Note: This post addresses issue: 14. Giving adolescents reputations
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.

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