Grades and Deadlines

A better-late-than-never end-of-semester reflections on last fall’s attempt to wrangle the grading beast.  Spoiler alert: it didn’t go well, but maybe there’s hope.

Here was the idea: I wanted to create a system that maximized my grading efficiency and maximized student freedom to work in a way that reflected their learning. So, the beast I created was to use the Assignment Tool in BlackBoard for each weekly homework assignment and for the projects. The students would submit the solutions in the system, and BlackBoard would keep them organized and make it easier for me to grade sets of problems and record the results. Efficiency! I gave the students the option to both choose which subset of assignments to do (not too radical), and, although I gave each assignment a deadline, I basically said there was no deadline (radical, and, in the end, a bad choice).

Let’s jump to the midterm: most students had not done much of the work. Did I mention this was a graduate course? They still had time to get the points they needed, plus there was no deadlines. Grading wise, the system worked okay, but with not all students completing the work at the same time, I justified my procrastination by saying I’d wait until more turned work in. Now, we go to the end of the course. I’m still behind on the grading, manageable with a mammoth grading session. Most students haven’t done the work they need to do, but that will soon change. Over a two-day period, my grading load doubled (from crazy amount to insane amount).  It did get graded and I made the semester grading deadlines (barely).

In the end of course comments, students both appreciated the lax deadlines, but also realized that they weren’t good for them. They complained about the workload that they ended up with. (All reasonable complaints). The grading scheme was okay; I liked not having to handle the paper and being able to easily organize and review the work and connect work to grades.  I also liked that there was an electronic copy of the work, so I had access and the student’s had access. I did not like the influx at the end, and I really didn’t like that work that would have been helpful in understanding things going on in class weren’t usually done in time to be relevant. Also, because I did make solutions available to students that completed work, there seemed to be some students that shared elements of those solutions.

What would/did I adjust? Since the course was part of a year-long sequence, I had the opportunity to do some tweaking for the spring semester. I kept the online version of work submission and added back real deadlines, with some limited options for extensions. Those fixed the worst elements. The other tweaks had to do with overall grades, I switched to a total point system with some extra requirements. Students had to earn so many points on exams and so many points on projects; missing either would drop them by one grade (A to B+, etc). Then there was a total point threshold for the grade, like 500 points for an A. This worked out really well as I was able to assign around 800 points worth of work of various types and students could (and did) pick and choose based on their interests and needs. This flexibility let me set the deadlines to be pretty short, so that students were doing work that was directly relevant to the discussions we had in class. On a couple of occasions I was able to use some student work as an example to show some feature in class.  The class was smaller than in the fall, so although the total amount of work assigned was more, with the choices and the number of students the grading load was smaller. The only relevant complaint I got was that with the short turn-around the students couldn’t do all the work. My intent wasn’t that they would do it all, but I understand the complaint.

So I have some things that I’ve tried, that I’ve tweaked to make better, and we’ll see how things go next time.