UTM professor defends awarding marks to students who buy his book and follow him on social media
A popular UTM lecturer ended up in hot water this week after news broke that he awards participation marks to students who purchase his book, Dumb Money, and follow him on social media.
But Mitchell Huynh, a sessional lecturer who teaches an introduction to personal finance course at the University of Toronto—Mississauga, says that his students are not the ones voicing concerns over how he awards participation marks.
"This [procedure] was used in the previous semester as well, so the criticism is coming from those who are not in my course and haven't taken my course," Huynh told insauga.com.
Huynh's unorthodox marking tactic came to light after a now-deleted post in the UTM subreddit began circulating online.
Huynh says he believes a student posted his participation grading criteria (participation accounts for 10 per cent of a student's final marks in the class) as a joke and unintentionally drew the ire of students outside the course in the process.
To get full participation marks in the class, Huynh asks that students buy his book, get it signed and connect with him on social media.
"The thought process is that the book will be a resource for them in the course and later in life. It's the only textbook and mandatory reading for the course," he says.
"When we receive something for free, we don't value it."
Huynh says his book, which is required reading for the course, costs between $6 and $20 on Amazon.
"That's significantly less than other books for other courses that could cost up to $100 or more. I wanted them to value the book and start using it and be familiar with it as a resource".
As for asking students to approach him to have the book signed, Huynh says it's a good way to encourage students to talk to him one-on-one.
"I like to connect one-on-one with my students, which is why I like the time when I sign the book because we can have a short conversation. In my first university years, I never spoke to the professor. This is my way of breaking the ice with students," he says, adding that the chats can lead to mentorship opportunities.
Huynh says that his course is popular and well-reviewed.
"My students are fully engaged and fully on board. We talk about the importance of the social media connection element. When I'm not around later, the book will help them later on," he says.
Huynh, who has been teaching at UTM for three years, sent insauga.com copies of the anonymous feedback he's received from students. The 35 students who chose to provide feedback expressed, for the most part, positive opinions of the course and professor.
"The professor is very easy going and is very approachable. He is very knowledgable about the content and is very passionate about it," one comment read.
"Material was well explained, questions were answered well, a genuine concern for student understanding and application of course content in the real world," another said.
Of the 28 comments submitted, only one spoke negatively of Hunyh's instructional qualities, criticizing the professor for reportedly bragging about his wealth.
Huynh has also received support on social media from students who claim they've been assigned material written by other professors in the past.
"People will jump on any opportunity to shit talk someone. Even when it's the dumbest "scandal" I ever heard," wrote Instagram user Smileysarajanee.
"SO many mandatory readings in my classes at u of t were written by my professors. One time I had to create a twitter account and tweet at the professor to get 1% participation. Chill out. Australia is burning, a plane was accidentally shot down - basically, there are much bigger problems to think about than participation marks. someone could still pass this course if they didn't want to engage in this and not get the few %."
Others have also said that getting a book signed and following an instructor on social media is a small ask for participation marks—even if it's not the best tactic.
"Lmao I don’t necessarily agree with his tactics but that’s an easy 3%," wrote Instagram user Keviotics.
Others have been fiercely critical.
"How is it fair to not give someone a mark because they don't follow your social media or buy a brand new book?," Instagram user karinalevinn25 wrote.
"Some people can only afford used books and others don't even have social media. Wtf?"
Huynh says the criticism doesn't really bother him.
"Most of the criticism I'm not overly concerned about. It's not coming from people who have taken the course. A lot of my past students are showing support."
Huynh says that his method of doling out marks has always been transparent.
"For my participation marks, I like to be extremely transparent. Students aren't used to that, because participation can be a touchy subject. I don't like that, I like my students to know exactly what they're getting credit for."
That said, Huynh is planning on changing how he grades in the wake of the controversy.
"U of T reached out to me and asked me to restructure the participation."
"A lot of students like how the [participation marks] were structured, but they understand that we need to be sensitive to non-course takers and the public perception. We're discussing how to restructure so they and the public are happy. A lot of students reached out and said they liked it, but they'll work through it with me because they're seeing the backlash."
Huynh says he'd like to see changes in how participation is graded across the board.
"I think there should be a change in how participation is graded. There needs to be a clear understanding of how credit is given."
Huynh says that while a lot of good has come out of the controversy, he's disappointed that his social media presence attracted attention for the marks issue rather than the charitable work he's been sharing on his Instagram account.
"People like to talk about what's sensational," he says, adding that his Instagram account also informs people of the thousands of dollars he’s donated to charities and homeless advocacy groups in the GTA. He also says that he’s tried to encourage viewers to donate and get involved in charitable work by repurposing popular memes.
Huynh says his students have also suggested charitable causes for him to contribute to.
"A couple of students suggested I donate the royalties from my book to Australia [to help fight the wildfires]. All book proceeds sold in January will go to the Australian crisis. People don't like to talk about people helping people," he says, adding that his posts promoting charitable giving don't get much engagement.
"It's a mindset that needs to be changed."
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