No One Is Getting an A in This Klout College Class

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There's a new Klout professor in town. Ryan Thornburg is basing twenty percent of his students' grades on how much they can raise their Klout score. Unfortunately for the kids, that means they're shooting blindly into the ether and hoping for the best. So far, it's barely working. 

Thornburg teaches a Social Media for Journalists class at UNC. His twenty percent Klout factor weight is ten percent more than FSU marketing professor Todd Bacile's Klout based class grade that riled people over the summer. 

Thornburg justifies his Klout experiment because, like him grading a student's mark, grading one's social media effectiveness is a flawed endeavour. "Boiling a semester's worth of effort and accomplishment down into a single number has always seemed to me to have a certain false sense of precision to it," he writes. The students know a certain set of things will improve their Klout score (retweets, likes, +1s), but there are a huge number of variables we don't know about Klout's algorithm. Students are shooting into the dark, which makes it fair, "because it transforms the class from a workshop on button-pushing to an exercise in hypothesis testing, strategy and critical thinking."

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But he's found that, depending on where the student's Klout score started at the beginning of the semester, they've had varying degrees of success

Two students who had almost no social media activity when they started the semester registered initial Klout scores of 12 and 18 within the first week, but have had little movement since. But the two students who started at 55 have also seen little growth.

The most rapid growth in Klout scores during the first four weeks I've been tracking them has come from the students who had scores in the 30s and 40s. One student jumped from 33 to 52 and another from 42 to 58. But another moved only from 43 to 46. 

To recap: some students who started with low scores jumped about 16 points, and so did some who started with high scores. Some students's scores have relatively stayed the same. 

There's still half a semester to go, but as he notes, Klout puts the most weight on your social media activity over the last ninety days. Students who just started using social networking heavily for this class are at a significant disadvantage when the class is only a month old. But even then, some students who didn't use social media before the class posted gains as high as some who started with an extensive social media history. The only guarantee for an A grade Thornburg's promising is if you beat his 62 score at the end of the semester. 

Thornburg admits his goal to only grade on the rise in his students' scores might be flawed, so he's reserving the right to include effort and his opinion of the student's "ability to use social media as reporters" in final marks. Good luck, kids. Just don't let him turn you into klouchebags

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.