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Active Learning and the Scarcity Model of Grading
September 3, 2009 - 9:04pm

"I've been mentally toying with a scheme that looks like this: separate teaching from grading, then reward teaching that results in good grades. The instructor wouldn't grade his own class; he'd trade with someone else, ideally at another institution."

Craft and Evidence, By Dean Dad

Dear Dean Dad.

Please sign me up! I'm thinking we need to try something different when it comes to grading.

Can anyone point me to some good writing or presentations on how to square active learning techniques with the traditional grading schemes that we all need to work in? We are all trying to set-up courses that play to students strengths (rather then try to overcome weaknesses), that play to students multiple intelligences and the range of learning styles. We know that some students will communicate better visually then through writing, or will perform better on high stakes assessments if they are given frequent low-stakes quizzes.

The problem with designing our courses for student success is that then more of our students will succeed. And then these "successful" students will then all expect to get "A"s. Our students will confuse a positive learning experience with the expectation that they will get a high grade. Or perhaps we should think about the success of our courses in terms of getting as many students to an "A" as possible. Under this model an "A" grade is not scarce, but a destination that with careful course design and appropriate use of technology we can all bring our students.

One example is of how the combination of sound pedagogy and appropriate technology can end up with everyone getting high grades (and expecting final A's in class) is multiple choice exams. Course management systems allow us to offer our students frequent, low-stakes assessments. Students get a chance to practice with the material in a low-pressure way, so by the time they get to the mid-term or final students are comfortable with the method and content and tend to do very well. The learning is great - but what do we do with all the high grades?

Are the concepts of high scarcity and courses designed around active learning principles fundamentally incompatible? Or at least conflicted and difficult to work with? How will student react to courses that are set-up as supportive and safe learning environments, that play to their strength and offer assessments based on multiple learning styles, when at the end of the course they don't get an "A"?

 

 

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