On this rainy afternoon at the end of the semester, I imagine you are about to or have just turned in your course grades. Or, perhaps you are considering what to say about grading on your syllabus for your upcoming semester? Or you are still grading, wondering why you thought it was a good idea to assign a 30-page paper or a detailed lab write-up as a final? Grading and its twin, student assessment, are necessary and time-consuming parts of teaching and learning that are often conducted alone, without a lot of collegial discussion, even though such actions are integral to every discipline. As professors, we are enmeshed in grading in a number of ways: not only do we have to assess, evaluate, and grade our students, but we ourselves are products of a system that graded us, and so understand how receiving grades plays with students’ feelings of self-worth.
Of course, there is then the issue of what letter and number grades signify: do they represent student learning credibly and reliably? How does a student’s effort play into the assignment of a grade? None of these questions are ours to answer alone, but others have studied and written about them, and at this point, I offer you two perspectives: one, an article from The Journal of Computer Assisted Learning entitled, “The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades” (Junco, Heiberger & Loken, 2010), in which the researchers examine the use of Twitter as a tool for more active student class participation. The other, an essay that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2002) from the infamous Alfie Kohn, is provocatively entitled, “The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation.” Kohn takes the long view of grading in higher education, arguing not only that we have no data to support the commonly-held beliefs that grades are inflated, but also that we’re potentially asking the wrong questions about grading altogether. (If you do nothing else with these articles right now, the abstract of the Junco article and the two quotes that begin the Kohn essay are good food for thought.)
As you pack to head out for a few days, I wish you very happy holidays. I look forward to resuming our correspondence the week of January 4, 2016.
Many regards, with thanks for a thoughtful semester about teaching and learning,
Nancy S. Niemi, Ph.D.
Director, Faculty Teaching Initiatives
Supplementary Materials and Resources
Contact Dr. Niemi via email Nancy.Niemi@yale.edu or phone 203.432.8644 with thoughts about the collection and/or to receive these notes in your inbox.