Sometimes assigning grades can be the most unpleasant part of the semester. Attaching summative value to a semester’s worth of work can seem reductive and dismissive of the growth and learning we see in our students. My least favorite part of the grading process has always been the request to “bump” grades based on effort, proximity to another letter grade, or an impassioned plea. In most of my courses I have go so far as to issue a Blackboard announcement making it clear grades are not raised OR lowered based on criteria extraneous to the syllabus.I was also eager to use the “I don’t give grades, you earned them” zinger whenever possible. My justifications were always clear to me.
- Grade breakdowns along the guidelines specified in the syllabus are the fairest way to deliver grades. Anything else is unpredictable.
- If I were to bump grades up, students have to be ready for me to bump them down for similarly arbitrary reasons, otherwise the practice leads to grade inflation.
- Grades are a product of work and performance. If students want better grades, they need to perform better.
This may not be the perspective you take when assigning letter grades at the end of the semester. You may have even better reasons for your policies. My advice is to make whatever grading policy you have clear to your students. If you move grades up and down based on some additional criteria at the end of the semester, let your students know in advance. If grades follow a strict statistical model, make sure it is in the syllabus. We don’t owe our students good grades, but we do owe them transparency and honesty in the process.
Top 10 reasons to come to the Faculty Grading Oasis (open 8-5) in MLIB 458
- Get out of your office…where the walls are closing in on you.
- No one knocks on the door asking where the bathroom is.
- Free coffee and treats.
- Student help if you need exams alphabetized or data entered (as long as we are FERPA compliant).
- Bring one thing and focus on it rather than getting distracted at home or your office.
- Experience the magic of the 4th floor of the library.
- You are unlikely to run into that colleague who roams the hallway, complaining about how much grading they have to do.
- We are closer to Common Grounds than where you normally work.
- Our office is now is now 173 days since our last Chupacabra attack. You will probably be safe.
- We control our thermostat.
This time of the semester it is easy to think our experiences at work are unique to us. Nod in silence if you have said or overheard a colleague recently say
“I am so busy.”
“There is so much grading.”
“I don’t think (person X) understands how much work I have.”
“Why do I get so many annoying emails from CELT?”
These things might all be true, but it is important to remember they are true for everyone. Your colleagues are stressed and busy, students are scrambling to finish projects and study for exams, your chair and dean are grappling with their own issues, and the administrative assistant you work with all the time is probably getting the worst of it from all sides. Ask yourself how you would treat people if everyone were as busy as you are, and then do that, because they probably are.
Related to this piece of advice, here are a few more for the end of the semester.
- You would probably advise your students to abstain from ranting about their employers or coworkers on social media so take your own advice and do the same. What is posted on twitter lives forever in the memory of the internet. Think about how the student you are venting about would feel if you read your facebook post aloud in front of them.
- Yes it is the end of the term and ridiculous excuses are a part of our lives, but they can also be true. People do get sick during finals week and people we care about do go to the hospital. The fact that students may have been untruthful before does not mean the student who is emailing you asking for an extension is lying.
- Do something nice for someone. Bring your class donuts or ask your administrative support person how his/her day is without immediately cutting them off to ask for a rush order copy job. Sometimes simple kindness gets us through the most challenging times.
- Looking for some help and a quiet place to grade during finals week? Check out the Faculty Grading Oasis in MLIB 458. We are open 8-5 with hot coffee, snacks, and student support to help alphabetize exams and data entry (as long as it is FERPA compliant). There may even be spontaneous “Hotline Bling” inspired dance-offs, you just never know.
There have been a lot of stories about race on college campuses in the past few weeks. Protests that reached the football field rocked Missouri; students, faculty, and administrators clashed at Yale resulting in varied responses; protests at Dartmouthhave become a flashpoint for administrators and politicized news. Anyone on our campus who was not aware of these broader trends became so before break through a timely email from President Zingg. His email was the topic of choice on anonymous social network Yik Yak immediately afterwards and I can promise you—students were and are talking. Lost track of what these protests are about and how they impact education? The Chronicle has a good briefing to get you caught up although each summary becomes outdated in short order.
Beyond the campus and in the international spotlight, terrorist attacks in France have lots of people talking about limiting immigration based on racial, national, or religious tests.
Regardless of your area of expertise or the topic of your class, you are walking into a classroom where students are asking questions about race and diversity on campus and off. If you are affiliated with Multicultural and Gender Studies, you are more likely to be ready for this conversation. But what happens when you walk into your Physics classroom and several students are in a heated argument about a slur someone used in the dorms? What happens when a student in your hybrid Business class asks “are black students safe on campus?” in the chatroom in the middle of a class session? How can we best serve our students and community in this changing environment?
- Educate yourself. No one expects everyone on campus to be an expert on all current higher education news and all topics related to diversity on and off campus, but these issues are only becoming more prominent in higher education. AAC&U has some great resources to get started.
- Odds are good, someone will be unhappy with how you proceed. Cut off discussion and students may feel you are dismissing legitimate concerns. Engage the topics some students are deeply concerned with and you may do so in the wrong way or let a conversation take over a course students are paying to attend to learn critical material. Be okay with the prospect that things may not go as planned and maybe check with your chair to find out if there is any advice from the program or college that may help you out, even when things don’t go well.
Most of the easy problems have already been solved. Only the hard ones are left.
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Need a quiet place to write or grade? Come by MLIB 458; we are open 8-5 and here to help faculty however we can.