Paper No. 19-3
Presentation Time: 8:35 AM
RETHINKING APPROACHES TO GRADING STUDENT WORK UNDER PANDEMIC CONDITIONS
The pandemic contributed to both student stress levels and fiscal strain on our institutions. To combat the added stress of college during the pandemic, I chose to help students focus on self-regulation of learning as a way to give them more control over their situation. To alleviate the strain on the college and department, I increased my class sizes by removing prerequisites and offered classes with mixed student levels and majors. I implemented a new system of grading in two classes in the spring 2021 semester: a 200-level Mineralogy course and an elective for majors called “Tectonics”. My “Ungrading” system consisted of: 1) written feedback rather than numerical scores on all assignments, quizzes, and exams; 2) student reflection assignments every ~4 weeks of the class in which they evaluated their learning, effort or study habits, satisfaction with their performance, and what they want to improve; 3) one-on-one conferences with students after each reflection to discuss and negotiate their grade in the course. The class size in both cases was 13 students. Mineralogy had 5 freshmen, 6 sophomores, and 2 juniors with 4 declared geology majors, 1 minor, and 7 students taking it for general education credit. Tectonics had 6 seniors, 6 juniors, and 1 sophomore geology-related majors with a variety of prior course experiences. All students displayed commitment to completing their assignments during class time, regardless of their major. Some expressed apprehension early in the semester and I spent time reviewing the process with them regularly during this period. By the second reflection, they expressed appreciation for ungrading, stating that it allowed them to focus on learning and/or it took some pressure off. As an instructor, I gained a better understanding of why students missed or performed poorly on assignments and could focus on ways to support their learning rather than getting stuck in a “punishment” mindset. Both end-of semester reflections and teaching evaluations indicated that students appreciated the course structures and felt that they learned more or felt more motivated by ungrading. Course grades were slightly higher this semester/year than previous years, however this is consistent with institution-level trends most likely due to the demand for increased flexibility during the pandemic.