Monday, September 15, 2014

Connected Learning: Grading (bad!) v. Feedback (good!)

I just posted a new item in my Anatomy of an Online Course blog, and it's an important one: Grading. It explains how I have removed myself from the grading equation, and why I consider that to be essential to the success of my classes. I feel very lucky that I can construct a student-driven grading system so that I can meet my university's requirement that I give grades while being able to turn that process over to the students. See that blog posts for more details.

What I want to do here is reflect on the fabulous Connected Learning infographic in regards to grading... starting with the obvious fact that this rich, abundant, wide-ranging infographic is all about learning, and it says nothing at all about grading! Glory hallelujah!

FEEDBACK, however, is essential, so of course the word "feedback" appears in the infographic, and one of the main reasons why I do no grading in my classes is so that I can provide feedback — abundant feedback — that has nothing to do with grades. Abundant feedback from me AND abundant feedback from other students in the class is one of the fuels that keeps the whole class moving forward: as we give feedback to one another, we are having learning experiences of our own, so everybody benefits.

Grading, by contrast, is a dead end. Stifling. Private. And, for many, it is also scary and shaming. I believe we have to get rid of it if we really want to move forward.

As for the excitement that feedback can provide, the energizing sense of sharing and learning together, here are some comments from my students' "famous last words" blog posts over the past few weeks of the semester:

"Reading classmates blog’s is probably one of the most helpful things we do in this class. There are so many new ideas that are discovered every time I read someone else’s storytelling, or essay, or last words. Everyone has such great ideas and concepts, which pushes me to do better and be more creative."

"I enjoy reading classmate's versions of their reading Unit's, since it gives me views on different aspects of writing.  I have read many pieces that are great at grabbing audiences attention, and retaining it.  I only hope that if I have not been able to do that before, that I am able to achieve this with my future blogs/writings."

"It is helpful though to have classmates comment on my posts, especially when it is criticism. For the most part, it brings things in my writing to my attention that I may have not noticed before."

"I have noticed recently, since I have been making myself be particularly creative for my storytelling posts, I have been doing a lot better in my anatomy class. I think it is because I have been having to take an idea or a story and retell it in a way that everyone can understand. If everyone else can understand it, it will be easier for me to process and manipulate. If I take a concept in anatomy and think of it in several different ways, it makes it easier to apply to many different situations, which is what I normally have a really hard time doing. I am really hoping that this will continue because I really need to pass anatomy this semester."

"Every week when I read other people's posts, it inspires me to improve my writing. I am constantly impressed with the creativity they find in each and every assignment."

"This week I realized that people are starting to get the hang of the storytelling assignments. Some people are getting really creative and changing a lot about their chosen stories. There also has not been a story that I have not liked yet so I am thankful for that!  I personally think that I could use some more practice because I would like to get really creative with them, but sometimes it it hard for me to think of different ideas."

"Well this week has come with a lot of experimentation for this class. Different writing styles, different way of doing things, different format, just really different overall. Every time we comment on each other’s blogs I always have some sort of new idea or validation for myself. For example, I was worried all week about my storytelling and whether or not it was too long or choppy, but after reading other peoples stories I realize that I am somewhat in sync with everyone else."

"Oh looking at other peoples writing when commenting, it really makes me think wow! What great writers are in this class and if anyone is actually going to pursue this as a profession? Week four here I come!"

"I also really liked reading others' work. Some of the Storytelling posts blew me away with their creativity and also the style of writing. It made me eager to try out some different styles of writing in my own future posts."

.... I could go on and on. But you get the idea.


Credit: Connected Learning Research Network and Digital Media & Learning Research Hub
This Connected Learning Infographic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. You may Share and Adapt it, but you must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.


  1. Wonderful, Laura! The disparity between grades and useful assessment, and the student obsession with the former and ignorance of the latter, is a real obstacle. I'm delighted to see you taking this step. Did you read the interview I did with Dean Shareski about assessment?

    1. Oops. For some reason, Google thinks I am unknown. This is actually Howard Rheingold. I see "Inoreader" in your labels. Do you like it? I and my students use Netvibes, but I'm interested in alternatives.

  2. Oooooh, thank you, Howard! I have not seen that interview. I can imagine Dean Shareski has some great things to say. Definitely will go take a look at that!!! Grading is really the biggest problem I wrestle with: I try to remove myself from the grading, but it still looms large in the students' minds... because, of course, the university is obsessed with it! Argh!
    And listen: do I like Inoreader? I LOVE INOREADER. It has really transformed my class... I wish I had discovered it earlier. Lots of details here:
    and here:
    I am absolutely a fan! The way I ended up getting pulled into the delight of #ccourses is because of a great back-and-forth Alan Levine and I had about Inoreader. I don't have the time or technical wherewithal to run something like his genius WordPress set-up, but Inoreader is filling the gap for me very very very admirably! :-)

  3. WOW. I am shamelessly going to revise my own communication with students re: my philosophy of grading using this lovely communication from Dean Shareski to his students:
    An Open Letter to my Students
    Thanks to Howard for including the letter and a link in his video post linked above.
    Connecting: it's powerful. :-)

  4. OK, this is getting scary-- when I am teaching, I don't grade in my classes either. Boy does that make students nervous! "How will we know how we're doing?" one student kind of quavered in my last class. I looked at the pages of examples of past student work we'd been talking about and finally said, "Are you really saying you won't know?"

    That's why I have students set and assess weekly goals for their own learning, which they share with me. They are so programmed to look outside of themselves for learning that they forget that *they* can determine what matters to them, they can learn from everyone, and they can determine if they are satisfied with what they've learned and made.

    OK, off my soapbox. It's fun to read about what's happening in your classes!

  5. I would love to be able to do something that open-ended, Karen! It sounds great! I use the points thing because I want students to be able to opt out with a B or a C in the class if they want, and to do so in a planned way. I teach Gen. Ed. classes that are required for graduation, and some of the students are really taking the class under duress. They are good-spirited about it but they know and I know that my class has to be at the bottom of their priority list when they have classes in their major that do truly demand their attention more than mine. I like being able to let them decide on a strategy of lower (but sustained!) participation in my class, especially since in the long run the difference between an A or a B or a C matters not at all; they just have to pass the class to check the Gen. Ed. Humanities checklist off on their graduation sheet! They know the class is a top priority for me... but I know it is sometimes really a hoop they have to jump through. This is the best way to strike that balance that I have found. :-)

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  7. (it's delete and start over or live with the typo) Of all the gin joints on the internet, what were the odds of the randomizer sending me to this one? Or to a post I'd already read?

    1. Oh, that is too funny, Vanessa!!! If I remember the odds, that would be something like 300 to 1, ha ha. :-)


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