What students consider unfair grading practices

‘That’s So Unfair!’

Students have strong opinions about fair and unfair practices in college courses. Previous research shows that, according to students, fair practices include clarity about grading procedures and course policies, flexibility in scheduling make-up exams and meetings, generosity with feedback, and a reasonable approach to workload in the course. If those policies and practices aren’t followed, students often raise the issue of fairness, usually with some emotional intensity. “That grade is so unfair! I worked for hours on that assignment.”

Perceptions of fairness, or classroom justice, as it’s described in this recent research, relate to three aspects of the education experiences provided in courses. Distributive justice is defined as “perceptions of the fairness of an instructional outcome” (p. 323). Grades are the best example. Procedural justice involves the “fairness of the processes used to distribute resources or outcomes in the instructional context” (p. 323). Here, an example might be the way group work is graded, be it with individual grades, group grades, or some combination of the two. Interactional justice relates to the “fairness and quality of interpersonal treatment of students by instructors when procedures are implemented or outcomes allocated” (p. 323). Does the instructor show respect for students? Is the instructor open to student opinions? Does the instructor answer student questions?

Building on earlier research completed by some of this research team, this study investigated “the cognitive, affective and behavioral processes at play in students’ perceptions of and responses to classroom injustice” (p. 324). Their almost 400 undergraduate student cohort at three different institutions responded to open-ended queries as well as survey questions.

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Scenarios to Facilitate Discussion on Student Entitlement

The scenarios here can be used to explore the salient issues, starting with a deeper understanding of what entitlement involves. Most of the definitions are clear, but pretty generic. The conversation gets interesting when it focuses on what entitlement looks like when students have it or do it. The scenarios highlight some situations typically associated with entitlement. The discussion could start with student responses and actions that illustrate entitled attitudes and beliefs. But not every student request or objection is an entitled one. Sometimes students have legitimate concerns. Could that be the case in any of the scenarios outlined below?

Another rich discussion area involves whether certain faculty policies or practices promote student entitlement. Greenberger et. al. (2008) asks about the circumstances within higher education that foster it. The discussion could encompass higher education, generally, but the focus on faculty is important. Are we part of the problem? Are any of the policies and practices described or hinted at in the scenarios encouraging the sense of entitlement? Grading systems that rely on points? Policies that allow for absences? Giving partial credit?

The most needed discussion is the one that explores faculty responses to entitled attitudes and actions. Is the best approach to take the offensive—start the course by clarifying expectations? Outright discussions of entitlement—what it is and why it’s wrong?

The scenarios have been purposely written with a certain degree of ambiguity. Some responses to them will reflect entitled attitudes and beliefs, however, in some cases, the student may have a legitimate issue. Students could start by first discussing whether the scenario reveals entitlement or a legitimate concern. You might find there’s some disagreement among your students in terms of what is entitled behavior and what isn’t.

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Having a Conversation about Extra Credit

When it comes to extra credit, faculty are often firmly for or against. There are strong arguments to be made on both sides, and whether extra credit is appropriate for a given course depends on myriad factors.

This on-demand program gives you an opportunity to explore those factors in depth. Whether you’re approaching the extra credit decision for the first time or looking to revisit your existing policy, you’ll find this program to be an invaluable resource.

Having a Conversation About Extra Credit uses a scenario-based format to present a “real world” look at the issues. Narrated illustrations depict common positions on both sides of the topic, carefully exploring the pros and cons of each. The program outcomes change based on decisions made during the session.

After working through the program, you’ll be able to:

  • Articulate the pros and cons of various approaches to extra credit
  • Determine whether, and when, to offer extra credit assignments in your classes
  • Design assignments that promote meaningful learning
  • Create policies that are equitable for all your students
  • Understand and manage the impact of extra credit assignments on your workload

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Having a Conversation About a Challenged Grade

Conversations about grades are difficult—particularly if you’re a newer faculty member and you haven’t experienced many of them.

But it is possible to make such conversations constructive—even instructive. This on-demand program, delivered in an innovative format, will show you how.

Having a Conversation About a Challenged Grade is a collaborative-learning course. It illustrates common student grievances about their grades, and provides effective strategies to turn discussions about them in a positive direction.

You will work through specific scenarios—e.g., a student protesting that he worked hard and did not get the grade expected, or that her classmates got better grades for similar work, or that you are simply being subjective.

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How to Respond to Hostile, Inappropriate Comments in Class

When hot moments ignite in the classroom, it is important to engage thoughtfully and purposively in strategies that maintain a supportive communication climate. Managing hot moments is a complex endeavor, and it is our responsibility to maintain a climate that is conducive to learning by not adding fuel to the fire.

How to intervene when someone makes a blatantly inappropriate remark (Adapted from Obear, 2010):

Ask clarifying questions to help you understand intentions.

  • “I want to make sure I heard you correctly.  Did you say…”
  • If they disagree with your paraphrase, you could end the conversation. If you suspect they are trying to “cover their tracks,” you may consider making a statement about the initial comment.
  • “I’m glad to hear I misunderstood you, because, as you know, such comments can be…”

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Managing Hot Moments and Difficult Discussions in the Classroom [Transcript]

As an educator, how you respond to heated moments in your classroom can make a big difference in maintaining a supportive environment for your students. A difficult discussion can be a teachable moment, or it can create a defensive climate that has a negative impact on your students’ learning experiences.

When handled correctly, conflict and controversy can be powerful learning tools. But some faculty may not be well prepared to handle these types of discussions, especially when hot moments arise. They may choose to have a superficial conversation about the subject or, worse, ignore it completely, which can be a barrier to learning.

Get the transcript to the online seminar How to Create a Transformative Learning Experience for Students by Managing Hot Moments and Difficult Discussions in the Classroom. Featuring advice from Tasha Souza, PhD, you will learn how to:

  • Lay the foundation for a productive classroom discussion
  • Use strategies that are most appropriate to your specific classroom context and situation
  • Understand how faculty and student nonverbal communication can affect the classroom climate in both positive and negative ways
  • Recognize an OTFD communication framework and how to use it as a strategy for managing difficult dialogue
  • Assess the effects of a difficult classroom discussion on your students and know what to do afterwards

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A Different Take on “Did I Miss Anything Important?”

When students ask us, as they occasionally do, “I wasn’t in class yesterday. Did I miss anything important?” most of us feel at least a bit of disrespect and some aggravation. If we take the question at face value, it implies that the student thinks at least some of what we do in class might not actually be important. Judging from a search of online forums, instructors’ responses range from genuine interest in helping students understand what they missed and how to make up for it, to contempt exemplified by sarcastic comments such as, “No, since you weren’t present we just filled time until the class was over.” The former response was illustrated in a 2014 article in The Teaching Professor,by Rocky Dailey, who also noted that some absences may be considered more legitimate than others (e.g., due to a student’s participating in an institution-sanctioned activity rather than just deciding not to show up). In those cases, I may feel more inclined to give the student some of my time and effort to help make up for the absence.

My focus here is neither on deciding how to respond to the student nor on the plethora of reasons that students give for missing a class. Instead, I want to turn the question around. Why do students ask this question and, more important, what does it say about my course when they do? I’m particularly concerned about students who still ask the question even after they’ve attended several class for sessions. By that time students have experienced what goes on in my classes, and I take asking whether anything important happened in class as a sign of one or all of the following:

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Student Incivility: Strategies to Prevent and Respond to Conflict [Transcript]

Surveys indicate that one of every five students periodically displays some form of resistance to learning or hostility within the learning environment. Some students arrive late, fall asleep, or habitually miss class. Others argue with other students or the instructor. These behaviors—and others like them—are troubling on their own. What’s worse is that they are highly contagious and will spread to other students if the instructor is unprepared to quickly address and resolve them.

There is no such thing as a tolerable amount of incivility. A little disruptive behavior begets more disruptive behavior, and soon a healthy classroom environment devolves into an unhealthy one that does not support learning and that distresses other students. Negativity pervades the class. Some students become overtly hostile and disrespectful to their peers and instructors. Eventually, the class is overcome with contemptuous students who resist completing homework or participating in discussions. And that’s not what anyone signed up for.

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Meet students where they are

Multi-tasking Compromises Learning: A Sampling of the Evidence

Students in a general psychology course completed weekly surveys on various aspects of the class. They reported their attendance, and if they used laptops during class for things other than note taking (like checking email, instant messaging, surfing the net, playing games). They also rated how closely they paid attention to the lectures, how clear they found the lectures and how confident they were they understood the lecture material. The level of laptop use negatively correlated with how much attention students paid to the lectures, the clarity of the lectures and how well they understood the lecture material. “The level of laptop use was significantly and negatively related to student learning. The more students used their laptops in class, the lower their class performance.

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Embracing Tension in the Classroom

As instructors, we strive to generate thoughtful and engaging classroom discussion while maintaining a collegial and inclusive environment. In doing so, we may be tempted to avoid topics that can ultimately add to students’ learning. Hot moments in the classroom refer to discussions that become contentious, acrimonious, or even disrespectful. None of us wants to promote a toxic classroom environment, and when such moments happen, we work diligently to diffuse them. However, when done strategically, creating what I call positive tension can help students better understand ideas central to a course while learning to engage in productive debate in the classroom and beyond.

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