Final reflections on my year as a faculty fellow

The ungrading community

My year as a faculty fellow has been a time of experimentation, professional growth, and community building.

While I didn’t know it when I first applied to be a faculty fellow, the DPL conference in Vancouver sent me in a completely new direction in developing my pedagogy. Over the past year, I’ve explored ways to assess students without assigning them grades.

The “Beyond Grading” workshop in March was a highlight of the year. We had great discussions, I got new ideas for my courses, and we continued building a community of people who are interested in questioning grading and rethinking assessment.

I am reminded of how important it is to develop and maintain this community every time I talk about my work as a faculty fellow to colleagues who are unfamiliar with these ideas. When I tell people I’m working on quitting grading or that I’m going to spend the first three weeks of my graduate seminar in the fall guiding students through designing the syllabus, I usually get one of two reactions: (1) silence and a look of utter horror or (2) something that sounds like, “ha! good luck with that.”

Every time this happens, I am grateful for all the people I’ve met and collaborated with through ThinqStudio who are excited and interested when I tell them about my plans. And it makes me recommit to building and maintaining this community. Would you like to join us? Here’s how:

When I started out as a ThinqStudio fellow, I knew it would involve going to DPL, trying out some new things in my courses, and writing some blog posts. What I didn’t anticipate is that the most valuable part of this year–and the thing that makes experimenting even feel possible–is the people at CU Denver and beyond I’ve connected with though ThinqStudio events and programs.

Reflections on self-assessment

Not all of my students this semester thought that self-assessment helped their learning, but a large majority did. One of the challenges I need to work on with this method is to do a bit more to help students understand how to assess themselves accurately. A few felt like they gave themselves too many or too few points, at least on occasion. Or perhaps for some it’s simply a matter of helping them feel more confident assessing themselves. 

Note that these percentages add up to more than 100% because they could choose more than one answer if they’d ever had any of these feelings over the course of whole semester.

Part of the problem here was my overly complicated weekly point-calculation system. In the Fall, they’re don’t going to give themselves a point value each week, but they’ll still write weekly reflections on their goals and challenges. Then, at midterm and the end of the semester, they’ll provide evidence from those reflections to justify a letter grade. If I don’t agree with them, we’ll have a conversation to sort it out.

My experiments in ungrading have continued to evolve over the semester. In moving away from points and towards a simpler system in which all assessment and feedback — except at midterm and the end of the semester — is qualitative, I wonder if students will feel adrift or if they will appreciate the self-determination? No doubt I’ll encounter both, but my ongoing question is: How can I best set up students for success with self-assessment?