Laura Gibbs

Let's Talk about Grading (7): The WORK, not the Grade

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Feb 10, 2019

Wow, between the hectic start-of-semester and then being out of town for a week in Austin, I haven't blogged here since back in January. But now I'm back home for a few weeks, and working hard on the un-grading book chapter that I have due at the end of the month. I've been using these un-grading blog posts for thinking about loud about that chapter, and today I want to write about a focus on work as opposed to a focus on grades.


GRADE OBSESSIONS. Let's start with the focus on grades. The only lasting record of what a student does in school is the grades on their transcript, and their performance in school is often assessed in an even more reductive form: the grade point average. Students, understandably, obsess about grades; if the only thing that matters after a class is over is the grade they get, of course they are going to obsess about grades.


What I wanted to note here was something I saw at Twitter this week about how the LMS-approach has ratcheted up that grade obsession so that it is now even more harmful than in the past. Here's a tweet from Robin de Rosa that prompted over a hundred replies about this serious problem:


screenshot of tweet


In my classes, the students are doing all the grading. I don't enter anything in the Gradebook; they do that. So, there is no waiting for me to do something, no anxiety about what I will or won't do. I put the students in charge, and if there is Gradebook activity, there are no surprises involved. Details here: Microassignments and Completion-Based Grading.


Turning the Gradebook over to the students works great for me, but I know it does not work that way in their other classes, and when I ask them about how they use the Canvas App on their phones, checking their grades is the #1 thing that they mention. And, sad to say, one of the Alexa Skills that Canvas has developed is: "Alexa, list grades" (sigh...).




So, yes, shifting from a focus on grades to work is hard because I cannot do anything about the way the grade, and only the grade, is what shows up on my students' permanent records after the class is over. That's the administrative culture of the school, and I cannot change it. But I can change the culture of my class so that it is all about the work, and since the students' project websites are going up this weekend, now seems like a good time to write about making student work the center of the class.


If you take a look at one of my Canvas classes (they're open, so go right ahead and click!), you will see that the content there in Canvas is content created by the students, coming in through their blogs and their websites:


The Blogs link on the left gives you the live blog stream, with all the latest posts; to see a post in a student's blog, just click on the title and you'll go right there. I use the RSS aggregator Inoreader to create these blog streams and once they are set up, the students' new posts show up automatically.


screenshot of blog stream


The Projects link on the left gives you a slideshow of the students' projects. These are websites, not blogs, so I can't easily create a "stream" of content like for the blogs. Instead, I create a Google Slideshow which I can easily embed here and elsewhere, and I update the slideshow as each new project comes online. Then, to keep the slideshow fresh and changing after all the slides are up, I randomize the slideshow every day using an add-on ("Slides Randomizer"). I just takes a minute and, thanks to the power of random, different projects appear at the start of the slideshow from day to day.


screenshot of slideshow


Announcements. In addition to the student work that students can find in the Blogs and Projects pages here at Canvas, I also include student content in the class announcements, which you can see on the Canvas Home page. Every day in the announcements, I feature something from a student blog post and I also feature a student project. Plus, in the right-hand sidebar you will see a small version of the projects slideshow, along with a widget that shows a new student project at random each time the page reloads. Through this daily presentation of student work, I hope to show the students that their work really is a crucial part of the class, something that I pay attention to and something that is of value to their fellow students also.




In addition to being aware of the work being done by their fellow students, my students also know that their work will continue to be valuable even after the class is over, becoming part of the archive of student work at my eStorybook Central website. The students visit that website as one of their very first class assignments, learning about the work they will be doing in the class by browsing through the work of past students. There are other ways their work rolls forward too, like in the Advice Padlet that I use to get each semester started, sharing advice from last semester's students. There's also a Feedback Gallery that past students created to help new students get into a good feedback groove.


For more about this general approach, take a look at the results of this Google search: Non-Disposable Assignments. It's a useful catchphrase that captures many of the ideas that I've discussed in this post.


Nothing in the LMS supports this forward-looking approach: after a class is over, any content that the students have created inside the LMS goes dark. All that remains is the grade, recorded in the student information system, which is Banner at my school; by default, my school shuts off student access to courses in the LMS shortly after the recorded grades become available in Banner. Why? Because the grades are the only thing that matter after the class is over.




Despite the requirement that I turn in grades for my students, I still want to keep the class focus on the work, not the grade. That means focusing on the work from day to day, and also thinking about the value that the work can have into the future. There is very little that you can do in the LMS to make that happen, but you can use other tools, beyond the LMS, so that students can create and share their work online, and then you can find ways to bring that work back into Canvas, using embedding and other kinds of dynamic integration.


So, while I'm frustrated that so much of the Canvas resources go into the Gradebook and grade-related activities, I am glad that I can turn the Gradebook over to the students while using Canvas features like the redirect tool and other integration options to make their work part of the Canvas space.




I'm sure other people have found creative ways to bring your students' work into the Canvas space: what are your favorite tricks and strategies? I'm sure there are some great examples out there with other tools (Padlet, Flipgrid, Hypothesis, etc. come to mind!) ... so if you have examples you can share here, please do!



Shifting the focus from the grades to the work:

it's a matter of perspective!


cat in overturned basket: Step back and change your perspective!

Step back and change your perspective!