Sunday, March 8, 2009

Romania Re-Examined: A Continuing Process

Tonight I have for you several updates on my earlier post on Romanian university practices:

1. At the Re-Examination session for my Operations Management class last month, I was approached by a student who had never attended, and had not written a case analysis. He was, however, aware of the "Word to the Wise" that I had posted to the Englshline Yahoo Group in November. He clearly had a good understanding of that message, for he asked if it were possible for him to pass the course simply by passing the make-up final. I told him that since it was worth ony 25%, he would be wasting his time, but that he was welcome to take it if he liked. He decided not to stay, but, as Melinda monitored the one student trying to earn a 5 in the course by getting a 9 or 10 on this exam, he and I had a chat in the hallway about why he had not been attending. "I have a job with a company that markets MTD Power Equipment, an American company that makes lawn mowers, lawn tractors, and snow blowers. It is based in Cleveland, Ohio, but I work in marketing for its distributor here in Romania. I have been developing a plan for launching a new line of chainsaws, and I have not been able to take time off for classes." I told him that I own an MTD snow blower in New Hampshire, and that I think their simple, rugged and inexpensive equipment offers excellent value. "I respect your choice," I told him, "but that does not mean that you can get academic credit when you haven't done the assigned academic work." We parted on good terms, with his planning to find another time to take this required course.

2. System Engineer Darius at the Faculty of European Studies was helping me post some files last week, and we got to talking. I showed him my blog post from 20 February, "Romania Re-Examined." Darius said, "You are right, of course. But when looking for a job, what do employers ask? They always ask, 'What is your experience?' And if you have no work experience, you will not get the job. That is why so many students do not attend classes and seminars." "Fine," I said, "that is a valid life choice. But then, how can they expect also to earn a university diploma, if they do not participate in the courses?"

3. Then there was the comment I received to "Romania Re-Examined" from Ms. Diana Constantinescu. Diana is a serious student who feels that the present system of grading and of granting degrees in Romania devalues her hard work in learning the course knowledge that the professors are there to deliver. She urges me to stick with the American system of requiring multiple student outputs, and of grading based on each student's performances in all the learning activities of the course.

4. On Friday I taught my first Management Accounting session and seminar, as I had been in Kansas City the previous Friday. The students at this class impressed me. At the break between "Course" and "Seminar" I passed out my first-day caselette, and gave the class an extra twenty minutes to analyze it. When we resumed, several who offered their opinions proved well-schooled in the fundamentals of business cash flow analysis, and quickly saw several paths to solving the liquidity problem that the one-page caselette had posed. I had more students in that day's session than I had yet seen in my classes here in Romania: 40 were present. After the seminar, talking with my teaching teammate Prof. Ph.D. Alexandra Mutiu, I learned that we had 79 enrolled in the course. As is typical, we had only about 50% in attendance. I hasten to point out that it was the attending students who had impressed me so favorably. I have no idea whether any of the ones not present could have analyzed the case as quickly or as cogently.

5. After class Prof. Mutiu volunteered that she, too, had seen my blog post of 20 February. She also agreed that it was accurate. I told her what Darius had said about the importance of work experience in employers' recruiting processes. As she had also read Ms. Constantinescu's comment, Alexandra added her belief that, however hard it might be to find their first post-university position, a year after going to work the students who had worked hard in the University and attended their classes would move up the promotional ladder faster than the others, and end up in higher places in most organizations.

6. I then asked Alexandra about the practice of offering a three-chance final examination, commenting that to make it fair to the early-takers, it was necessary to write three completely different examinations, as even though they are collected each time, much information about the course's prior final examination (an oxymoron) would surely get out to those planning to take the second one, or the make-up. Alexandra's response was immediate: "Of course the questions get out. Students use their cell phones to photograph the exam, or to Fax their friends from the exam room."

Let the discussion proceed. I am still withholding judgment.


Sorriso said...

It is a very common practise among Romanian students, just as you are already aware of, to skip classes in order not to miss a day at the job. And it is true that companies ask about our job experience when we have just finished university.

I am just one of the lucky cases who can take home the tasks given at the job and continue working on them when I want or when I find the time.

Unfortunately, not all of my colleagues are this lucky...And besides, it is not only the employment issue that forces them to get a job....sometimes it is all about money...

I have also complained a lot about the Romanian grading system which does not deliver an accurate evaluation of the student's knowledge. Everybody knows this but it will take a while to change things around here.

On Friday you asked us why we didn't offer the bank loan as a solution to the case study. It is a common belief that Romanians don't like banks...and I tend to agree with that ..We would try anything and everything before finally going to a bank. In the last year I managed to change this belief I had, too, because of a simple credit card. Getting one proved to be a very good decision I made.

It's quite interesting to see Romania through a different view. I've enjoyed reading all the posts, especially the ones where you said you like our country :D :))

Best wishes,

Raluca Tarcea

Davin said...

Using camera mobile phones to capture the exam in pictures and to text them to friends. . . yikes! I hadn't thought of that before, but technology has moved on since I was in college back in 1996-2001 out in Minnesota at Carleton College. . . How can a professor work to counteract this I wonder especially in a big lecture hall?

p.s. Duncan: I did my junior and senior years of high school up at Holderness!



Duncan McDougall said...

Holderness School is a truly wonderful community. I hope you enjoyed it. Did you know either of my sons who were also there in the 90s?