There’s an excellent article on grading in a recent issue of Cell Biology Education-Life Sciences Education. It offers a brief history of grading (it hasn’t been around for all that long), and then looks to the literature for answers to four key questions.
10 Assessment Design Tips for Increasing Online Student Retention, Satisfaction and Learning, part 2
In the part one of this article, we started our exploration of assessment ideas for your online courses. We explored the value of designing ample opportunities for formative feedback. We examined the value of authentic assessments and the dangers of using assessment as a punishment. We also reflected upon alternatives or enhancements to the traditional letter grade system, as well as designing with the realization that most learners approach our courses as a buffet rather than a pre-served meal, and the implications for our assessment plans.
When you are a math teacher you are often faced with the dilemma of whether to assign partial credit to a problem that is incorrect, but that demonstrates some knowledge of the topic. Should I give half-credit? Three points out of five? My answer has typically been to give no credit…at first. However, taking a page from my colleagues in the English department (and grad school), I do allow for revisions, which ends up being a much better solution.
One of the big challenges of teaching an online course is managing workload while providing the support and feedback that is essential to student success. A good way to become more efficient is to build an archive of grading comments to reduce the time it takes to provide feedback on assignments. By creating an archive, an instructor could insert a comment such as the following with a single keystroke:
It’s a conversation most faculty would rather not have. The student is unhappy about a grade on a paper, project, exam, or for the course itself. It’s also a conversation most students would rather not have. In the study referenced below, only 16.8 percent of students who reported they had received a grade other than what they thought their work deserved actually went to see the professor to discuss the grade.
We’ve all had conversations with students who want effort counted in their grade: “But I tried so hard … I studied for hours … I am really working in this course.” The question is, should effort count? Less commonly asked, however, is whether it should count in both directions. Students want effort to count when they try hard but their performance doesn’t show it. But what about when an excellent performance results without much effort? Should this lack of effort lower the grade? Beyond these theoretical questions are the pragmatic ones: Can effort be measured fairly, objectively? If so, what criteria are used to assess it?
Sometimes, in informal conversations with colleagues, I hear a statement like this, “Yeah, not a great semester, I doled out a lot of C’s.” I wonder, did this professor create learning goals that were unobtainable by most of the class or did this professor lack the skills to facilitate learning? I present this provocative lead-in as an invitation to reflect upon our presuppositions regarding grading.
Grading participation presents a number of challenges. If instructors rely on their sense of who participated, how often, and in what ways, that can be a pretty subjective measure. After all, besides noting who’s contributing, the instructor needs to listen to what the student is saying, and frame a response while keeping the larger discussion context in mind. Is the discussion staying on track? Are there points that have yet to be made? If instructors opt for a more objective system, they face the cumbersome task of comment counting during the actual discussion. While listening to the student, the instructor must find the student’s name and record the comment. It requires a challenging set of multitasking skills.
Grading serves multiple purposes. While the most obvious purpose is to evaluate students’ work — as a measure of competency, achievement, and meeting the expectations of the course — grading can also be a key to communication, motivation, organization and faculty/student reflection. It’s for that reason that Virginia Johnson Anderson, EdD, calls grading “a context-dependent, complex process.”
The June/July issue of The Teaching Professor contains highlights from an article that makes an important point about grade inflation. Not all grade inflation is bad. When grades are higher than they used to be and there’s no corresponding increase in student performance, then grade inflation is a problem. But as Mostrom and Blumberg point out, some teaching motivates students to work hard and achieve more. This “grade improvement,” as Mostrom and Blumberg call it, is good. It’s what all teachers should aspire to promote. We want our students to learn more and when they do, their grades should show it. This important distinction should be part of our thinking about grade inflation.