Last year, a student emailed me with a question. After introducing herself, she reminded me that she had taken my class the previous summer. She told me that she achieved a B in my class because her final percentage was 88%. She was writing because she wanted me to reconsider that B and bump her grade up to an A. That way, she explained, she could have a stronger GPA for her master’s degree. I informed her that changing grades a year after a class ended went against university policy. I then reassured her that no one would ever ask for her master’s degree GPA.
The email made me think about GPAs and how we as instructors have such an influence over these three digits. How could something be so important and dictate so much in terms of future education, but then have little use in what everyone else calls the “real world?” It appears that Dr. Maryellen Weimer had similar questions about GPAs, grading policies, and what goes into our grading decisions. In her 20-minute mentor video called “What Ethical Issues Lurk in My Grading Policy?”, she poses thoughtful questions about ethics, grade inflation, and whether we can really measure what we learn in college.
Ethics in Grading
A friend once asked me why universities didn’t assign numbers to online students instead of using their real names. He wondered if it was a challenge for instructors to avoid bias in grading in terms of gender, race, or religion. Weimer (2016) noted that things like a student’s physical appearance, likability, and ethnicity have indeed been proven to influence grading (para. 18). Being aware of the possibility for bias and making a concerted effort to eliminate any bias from grading is paramount.
Many of us fear being accused of grade inflation. We want to be seen as having high standards and ensuring appropriate rigor in the classroom. But low grades can be more than a result of low student effort; low grades may point to confusing instructions or inadequate teaching methods. When students fail, Weimer (2016) states that one should scrutinize the students’ effort, the material in question, and the teaching of that material (para. 7).
I recognize that there are times when student effort is simply not there. Some students will ignore directions, readings, and assignments. One way to try to counter this is by contacting the student and checking in. Letting students know that you are available, that you check My Messages daily, and that you are there to support them can change the classroom climate for a student.
Excelsior course developers do a spectacular job of creating thorough instructions for online assignments and discussions. I find it helpful to keep a Word document dedicated to each class where I make note of any updates that may augment learning for future classes. As you undoubtedly know, instructors are given opportunities to share helpful feedback and additional resources at the conclusion of the course. Having it all in one place makes this process more efficient.
If you find that directions are complicated or that there is room for misunderstandings, consider creating a brief mini-lecture to clarify the instructions. If you’ve created material to help with the weekly lesson, ask the students for feedback. Was it helpful? Are there other strategies that may be more helpful? I like to share an example of top-notch work with students early on in a class so they have a clear idea of my expectations.
What I Learned in College
Think back for a moment about your own college experience. What were the lessons that stuck with you? Think about interactions with memorable professors. Did their attention, feedback, and guidance change your life?
I’ll leave you with a few questions Weimer poses in her faculty workshops. She) asks faculty to share “the most significant thing you learned in college” (para. 24). The responses? “I learned to think, to problem solve, to ask good questions, to analyze evidence, to be persuasive, to believe in myself, to have confidence, to have discovered who I am and what I can become” (para. 24). Her follow-up question is “and how often were those things graded?” (para. 25).
Weimer, M. (2017, January 25). What ethical issues lurk in my grading policy? [Webinar]. In Magna 20-Minute Mentors. Retrieved from http://www.magnapubs.com/mentor-commons/?video=13730