To grade .. or not to grade ...

     The past few months I have been struggling a bit with the direction to take 'grading' in my courses this coming term. The last term of last year, and for one course in the fall term, I tried using a no grade system. The main reason I went to this is the belief that learning should be about professional & personal growth and improvement.
     The terminology used at my University for this is 'Pass/fail', which is really a misleading terminology. It implies that one can do the minimum and obtain a pass - this is not the way I see it - or apply it. I set, often with student input, a minimum expectation - one that I hope is high - and students must meet that minimum, not just get by. In my courses - generally about educational technology - I want to encourage my students to take risks, try out something new, explore new ideas. Often students will play it safe, striving to get that 'A'. I want them to try things and do their best, then look at how to improve on that. I want them to be critically self-reflective. I want them to think and be creative.
     Now, back to my struggles. I was a pretty successful student in the 'traditional' system, I have been indoctrinated into the system of grades and percentages and competition (not that competition is always bad) - like most of us have been. From this standpoint, I certainly understand what grades are supposed to do - distinguish between people (sorting), provide a measure - of sorts - for learning, and as an external motivator. I even might agree with some of those outcomes, some of the time. I have, however, always really thought that learning is the important thing, not the grade. But grades are so ingrained, it is hard to leave them behind - especially with arguments such as "how will this affect me getting into grad school?" or "getting a job?" and others argue that "some people will just put in the minimum" and others claim that they are motivated to get a better grade. Sometimes I found myself looking at student work and thinking - well, this should be better ... it would only be worth a ...", then I stop and think about what I am doing, it is about improvement, not 'punishment'. I have also found that assessment is so much more enjoyable - I look at the work for what was done well, how it can be improved, and giving suggestions - much more relaxing and productive, often leading to good conversations with students. Last year, most students enjoyed the system - found it made them more comfortable taking risks.... So ... I made up my syllabi last week - and with the input from a colleague and my own reflection about what I was really after - I stuck to the Pass/Fail - and I feel good for doing so. If this term works out, then - unless I am told from someone higher up than me - I will be sticking with this system. If anyone out there has experience with this type of evaluation, I would love to hear your experiences and any ideas.

Comments

  1. I've enjoyed working in the P/F system. It's nice not having to focus on what I think I'll do best at, but what I'm interested in.
    Also, for those who need marks to be motivated, just dangle the possibility of a P+ in front of their nose ;)

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