25 January 2010

On explaining grades

The linked piece is a column (dated yesterday but I think I've seen it before) in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Gina Barreca of the University of Connecticut. What I found most remarkable was not the piece itself but part of the first comment:
"Nobody should explain a grade to a student."
As flat and dogmatic as that. On the contrary, nobody should ever give a student a grade without explanation.

The principles of formative assessment (or "assessment for learning") suggest strongly that students can learn an enormous amount from good feedback. Indeed, Hattie concludes that the single most effective way of improving learning is to give "dollops of feedback". And all assessment can be formative. The mark or grade is simply a summary or proxy for the feedback, but it is so abstracted as to give practically no information. On a course on which I currently teach, there are no grades, just "pass" and "refer" (which caan lead to an outright "fail"). But there are dollops of feedback.


Last week one of the participants--"student" is not quite the word for well-qualified professionals in their fields who happen to be learning to teach that field--did ask a colleague for a grade.He demurred, but he could see how uncomfortable it made her. She had been through school, an undergraduate degree and a Master's getting grades all the time; a piece of work had not been properly assessed unless it got a grade, as far as she was concerned even if as in this case, it carried credits if it passed.

It's interesting that the education system is so hooked on grades; in the rest of the working world we get plenaty of feedback, but only in teaching do we get graded (by Ofsted)*.

I suspect that the sub-text of the original comment is that no student should ever question the judgement of a faculty member, however arbitrary.

*Not entirely true, but substantially so.

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08 December 2009

On an ingenious approach to marking assignments

Steve Hill of Southampton Solent University has been experimenting with Camtasia, a screen recording package which also takes audio, as a means of recording his spoken comments on students' work, which he can then send to them.
Students submit assignments electronically using our Moodle-based VLE. I then get a studentís Word file on screen and edit it, whilst simultaneously giving a live commentary on the changes that Iím making. This is like giving a student their own personal tutorial.
Sounds like an excellent idea!

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08 May 2009

On feedback

Do read the linked columnóand, as important, the comments.

The author (now a professor) has kept her former professor's annotation of an essay she wrote in her second year as an undergraduate. She reproduces them and her readers comment on them. It's fascinating, and also rather disconcerting to see how many ways the notes can be interpreted, as well as to consider whether that kind of feedback would be acceptable thirty years on.

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