InsideHigherEd.com recently reported that Florida State University marketing instructor Todd Bacile bases 10% of his students’ grades on their individual Klout scores. For those who are unfamiliar with Klout, Wikipedia explains that it “provides social media analytics to measure a user’s influence across his or her social network…and measures the size of a person’s network, the content created, and purports to measure how other people interact with that content.” A Klout score, then, is supposed to measure how many of your readers or followers actually pay attention to what you post on social media, including Facebook and Twitter.
Klout measurements have been subject to significant criticism, highlighted by the hubbub over President Barak Obama’s score, which, until Klout adjusted its secret analytics, was lower than Justin Bieber’s score. In other words, the man who can obliterate the planet with a single push of a red button was deemed by Klout to be less “influential” than an adolescent crooner who makes young girls swoon.
Bacile’s electronic marketing courses present students with the “Klout Challenge,” in which they have to increase their Klout scores over the semester; the higher the Klout score, the higher the grade. He began this largely because he discovered that employers have started to use Klout as a way of screening potential new employees. He told InsideHigherEd.com that “The idea for this project came about after a few conversations with hiring managers at advertising and marketing agencies. I approached them asking how they use Klout. I was surprised to hear some of them say they check their applicants’ Klout scores early on in the application process.”
Klout Grade Controversy
To say that Bacile’s actions have been controversial is an understatement. Students and educators alike are divided on the usefulness of such a project. Some claim that it is a valuable learning experience, while others describe it as “a joke.” And once Bacile blogged about it, the story went viral and was covered by The Chronicle of Higher Education, US News and a wide variety of other media outlets.
Bacile justified his use of Klout in a way that will make sense to many people:
- It gives students a way to market themselves for employment: “I owe it to my students to introduce them to every and any concept that will help them land an internship or full time job.”
- It is a hands-on demonstration of the marketing principles he teaches: “If my marketing students are going to use these tools in the workplace, they should have firsthand experience doing so with their personal brands.”
I think these arguments are valid: in a course on electronic marketing, it’s a great idea to assign students the kind of work they would be doing if they held a position in marketing in the professional world. It really fulfills the goals of education that are aimed at teaching students employment-related skills.
The Real Problem with Grading by Klout
Having said that, I do have some serious concerns about Bacile’s use of Klout in an assignment – well, not so much the use of Klout itself, but about the design of the assignment. It’s a grade that depends entirely, by Bacile’s own admission, on the students’ raw Klout scores alone. The assignment does not contain a single way to evaluate a student’s critical thinking. If I translated this assignment to my history courses, I would grade students just on the number of sources they put in a bibliography. That would give me no idea if they assessed the sources, learned new search strategies to find the sources and how those strategies worked, etc. In other words, there’s no opportunity for reflection and analysis in the Klout Challenge.
This is a very serious problem, given the onslaught of criticism about how little critical thinking students do in college. Some argue that college “has become too easy” and graduates are and under-prepared for the workforce. For example, Andrea Kay argues in USA Today that, “by far, aside from particular technical skills, what employers want most are people who can think clearly and critically, who know themselves, who have the ability to listen to others and interact respectfully.” But many believe that students are not learning this in college.
Similarly, Bacile’s Klout Challenge does not provide a way for students to evaluate what they’ve learned through it – and that’s a lost opportunity for the development of critical thinking. An addition to this assignment that would work very well is an analytical assessment to accompany the creation of a higher Klout score. This would give students the opportunity to assess what kind of activities raised the score and why they worked. They could then extrapolate from that the various ways they could use that information in real-world professional activities.
I don’t think that using a Klout score as part of an economic marketing assignment is a bad idea. I think that using only the score is a bad idea. With some slight tweaking, Bacile could provide students with a useful opportunity to develop the kind of evaluative skills they will also need in the workforce.