"Beyond Grading" workshop recap

On March 9, more than two dozen faculty members and staff from around CU Denver and beyond gathered for a one-day workshop on rethinking grading. We began the day by discussing, “What is the purpose of grades?” and “What are the drawbacks of grades?” Then, Jesse Stommel joined us via Zoom to talk about his experiences not-grading, and answered a lot of audience questions. After lunch, John Tinnell and Dale Stahl shared their methods of peer assessment in writing projects. We closed the day by workshopping some new ideas for our courses as a group.

New ideas

I was inspired and energized by the day and personally got a lot of new ideas I am eager to try out next semester.

The first is that I’m going to get rid of late penalties in my online course and see what happens. Why? One study that Stommel shared with us convinced me to try it: a daycare center had a problem with parents picking up their kids late, so they added a fine to try to fix this problem. But what happened was that people were more late once there was a financial penalty–they just did the calculation and figured it was worth it to pay the penalty.  I had long assumed I needed late penalties to force students to turn in their work on time, but because my course has weekly team meetings, there is already social accountability for getting work done on time, so I think this will work well.

The second thing is that I started developing a plan for how I’m going to democratize my graduate seminar next semester. At first I thought this might not work because it’s my program’s intro course, and it needs to cover certain topics so students are prepared for the rest of the program–it can’t be a free for all. But in a small group discussion, my table-mates offered a solution: have the students interview the faculty and more advanced graduate students to figure out what they’ll need to learn in this course to succeed in the program. Then we’ll use those interviews to develop the learning outcomes and the syllabus together. As the research on learner-centered teaching suggests, the students will hopefully be more invested in the work because they chose it and they’ll know why it matters.

Next steps

If you are interested in continuing (or joining!) this conversation about grading, you are welcome to attend a follow-up meeting on Friday April 13, 9:00-10:30 am, in Student Commons (1201 Larimer) room 3018. At this meeting, we’ll discuss how we want to continue developing these ideas and supporting each other in the following year. If you’d like to attend remotely, we’ll do an audio-only zoom stream as well, using this link: https://ucdenver.zoom.us/my/amyhasinoff


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