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Letters to the Editor

Helping classmates improves learning environment Re: “Grade inflation measures worrystudents,” Jan. 24)

We all know we should help others, but when times get hard, we sometimes forget that there are very practical reasons to lend a hand.

Some schools and instructors are tightening their grading standards, and according to a recent article in the Oracle, some students are wondering if they should help their competitors — er, classmates — with their homework. After all, if only so many students can get A’s and B’s, helping someone else get an A or B can only hurt oneself, right?

Not necessarily.

Coursework and tests are graded so that the grade reflects how much the student learned and how much the student can communicate what was learned.

We often think that the way we learn something is by reading it and doing exercises. But there is no more effective way to learn something than by teaching it to someone else, especially if that someone else is a picky person who really wants to understand it. It is easier to hoodwink a teacher than a fellow student.

So by helping a fellow student understand the material, you are helping yourself master the material, and you are also learning how to communicate it.

One problem of exams is that a student can “know” how to do a problem and yet the “solution” is incomplete, mucked up or incomprehensible. A solution is no good if no one else can understand it. So an exam tests not only your ability to come up with solutions, but also your ability to communicate your solutions effectively.

Well, how will you get practice learning how to communicate effectively? One way is to help your fellow students. They will force you to learn how to communicate.

By helping fellow students, you are developing habits that will help you in the “real world;” employees who help their colleagues are more valued than those who do not. Companies see helpful employees as employees who help the company, while competitive employees who do not help their colleagues are helping themselves at the company’s expense.

So don’t be afraid to help your fellow students. Besides, you may need help some day.

Greg McColm is an associate professor of mathematics.