This week:

  • I share some ideas on how professors might tweak their approaches to grading and assessment.
  • I ask for your questions — on any teaching topic — to ask our expert panel during our final session of Talking About Teaching.
  • I link to some recent articles on teaching you may have missed.

Baby Steps

For many professors, traditional approaches to grading and assessment were some of the first things they had to rethink when colleges moved to emergency online teaching two years ago. Many found that the changes they made — switching to frequent low-stakes quizzes, say, or letting students drop a low score — reduced anxiety and enhanced learning.

Lots of colleges changed their policies, too, in those early days, particularly in allowing courses to be graded pass/fail. But that was one of the first pandemic changes to be dropped. That’s because many external pressures prop up the use of traditional grades, including accreditation, graduate- and professional-school admissions, and competition with peer institutions.

So what can individual faculty members do, if they’re no longer satisfied with their old approaches but have been encouraged to return to normal?

That was one interesting strand of a panel discussion on grading and assessment that Beth and I moderated last week, the third installment in our Talking About Teaching series (you can register to watch a recording of the panel here).

Professors often have more autonomy in how to assess and grade their students than they might imagine, said Regan Gurung, one of our panelists. Still, said Gurung, associate vice provost and executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University, it’s a good idea to talk about a significant shift with your chair. “I mean, I’m a full professor, I still check with my department head before I make a major change,” he said, “just to make sure I’m in line with department policies and university policies.” It helps, Gurung added, to come to such a conversation with evidence to back up a proposed change.

Not every change, though, has to be big. Rather than changing a course all at once, professors can feel out students’ comfort level — and their own — by taking things one step at a time. “Pick an assignment, try this, try that, and be open to feedback,” Gurung said.

Panelists also suggested that professors could:

  • Continue to give tests, if they find that works best in their courses, but adjust some of the questions. Isis Artze-Vega, vice president for academic affairs at Valencia College, suggested, for instance, that they could ask questions that give students “authentic moments” of applying what they know. “We talk about authentic assessments as if they had to be fundamentally different from tests,” she said, “but what about authentic test questions?”
  • Allow students to drop a quiz grade or to retake quizzes. That could be incorporated into large-enrollment classes without creating extra work, said Viji Sathy, associate dean of evaluation and assessment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The learning-management system can provide fresh questions for retakes, she added. This approach sends students a message: “Not one single assessment is going to take you down,” she said. “You’re going to have lots of chances in this course, and I’m here to support you every step of the way.”
  • Give some assignments for which there is no grade. Gurung described an assignment he gave a class of 350. Students worked in groups to answer questions in a Google form — and got points just for putting something into the form. They took it seriously, he found, “because it was engaging, because it was fun.”

Have you made lasting changes in your grading or assessment? Do you feel supported by your institution in those changes? Have you talked with your department chair about such moves, and if so, how did it go? Share your experience with me, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com, and your example may appear in a future newsletter.

Ask Away

Beth and I have enjoyed — and learned a lot from — our Talking About Teaching series. We have one session left, on Friday, April 29. This one will be a reader mailbag: We’ll devote the full hour to asking our panel questions from our audience on any teaching topic.

Maybe you’re looking for ways to make your course more experiential. Maybe you’ve found it hard to motivate students, despite trying a bunch of things to make class time engaging. Maybe you have a question we haven’t thought about at all.

So, what do you want the panel to weigh in on? Let us know. We’re collecting questions in advance on our registration page. Or send us an email: beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.

ICYMI

  • In a new column for The Chronicle, James M. Lang reflects on trauma and teaching after experiencing a health crisis.
  • What do young people really want out of life? Rebecca Koenig explores their hopes and fears in an article for EdSurge.
  • How should colleges handle cheating on remote exams? Matt Reed explores the complicated question in a blog post for Inside Higher Ed.

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.

—Beckie

Learn more about our Teaching newsletter, including how to contact us, at the Teaching newsletter archive page.