Monday, May 6, 2013

Endorsements on LinkedIn: The New Grade Inflation?

So I've been growing my LinkedIn profile recently to expand my contact list, and to look for freelancers. My home institution is gearing up for a few initiatives that will need instructional designers, writers, copyeditors, and support personnel. I thought if I were to grow my contact list now, we would have an easier time finding qualified people.

In connecting to other people I noticed that a number of them used LinkedIn's Skill & Expertise section, and endorsed me for specific skills. These were people I just added as a connection who I didn't know before. I thought it was a bit strange, not knowing these people how would they know I'm qualified in anything?

After some reflection it seems like Skills & Expertise is a ripe area for inflation, in a similar way that grades are. Greater competition forces greater 'numbers' (grades, number of recommendations) to be highly coveted. A quid pro quo of grades and instructor evaluations/skills & expertise and skills & expertise benefits everyone. There doesn't seem to be many checks on these numbers, and if they line up with reality.

That last point is the focus of a number of recent efforts in L.A. and New York to accurately measure teacher performance. Both use the value-added economic measure to gauge the impact a single teacher has on a student, relative to all other teachers. There is some merit to this measure, but in no way can it be the only criteria teachers should be evaluated on. Teaching is a dynamic endeavor, one that uses the range of human expression and thought, and cannot be reduced to a single value. There has to be some middle ground between the objective and the subjective here, as in everywhere else.

So if we are trying to measure grade inflation (or related phenomenon), shouldn't we try to measure Skills & Expertise inflation? Would LinkedIn open up that information for data analysis junkies on Kaggle? Would they do some of that themselves, and publish it in one of their glossy infographics?

Until there is a bit more clarity on what these numbers are, and what they mean, I'll be politely declining recommendations from people I haven't met. I hope you do too.

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