Podcast: All About the Gradebook

Published: Wednesday, May 19, 2021

In this podcast episode, you'll learn all about best practices when it comes to using and cleaning up your gradebook in D2L. 

Instructional Designers Samantha Kirby and Chris Hauser are on a mission to teach you everything there is to know about gradebooks in D2L. In this episode of our Futures in Digital Learning Podcast, you'll hear from them about why gradebooks are like "phoenixes" and how to implement best practices for your students to keep an accurate and up-to-date count of their grades. Listen, and view the transcript below.


Speaker 1: Today in this episode of the university of Arizona's futures and digital learning podcast, we're bringing you a conversation with ODL instructional designers to explore the topic of grades. Grading and grades are an essential part of the online learning modality, but they sometimes get overlooked and require a slightly different approach from the face-to-face environment

Speaker 2: Before even going into your LMS and creating the grade book or considering your weights and distributions consider what is important for you, your class in your student body, what is the stuff you want to get feedback on? And what is the stuff that you actually want to test their knowledge and skill on.

Speaker 1: On here at the University of Arizona, the grade book and the learning management system provide functionality that can help you work efficiently and help enhance the overall learning experience for the student. Stay with us to learn more about this essential topic of teaching and learning.

Adam: Hello, welcome to the second episode of the futures in digital learning podcast. I am Adam Davy, a senior instructional designer with digital learning, and this is Brian Hale

Brian: And instructional designer with digital learning.

Adam: Today we have two other instructional designers from our office joining us, Samantha Kirby and Chris Houser. Today we are going to talk about grades and, grading systems and grading schemes, and how to put grades post grades in your learning management system, which in our case is D2L. You know what that looks like. So, to start off, we're just going to start with a big, easy question for the two of you. Why does having a clear, consistent grade book matter?

Chris: I'll take the first go at that question. Basically for me, the grade book is the one thing that students constantly go back to, even if the rest of the course is a disaster. If you have an organized grade book, the students can at least figure out what assignments are due and what they're getting graded on. They might not have the due dates in the grade book, obviously, but having that, consistent and easy to read, easy to understand grade book is really for me is of utmost importance because I know students as a student of myself, that was where I spent the majority of my time in the class was I always went to the grade book first. You know, also that heartbeat is how are you doing? You know, are you doing well in the class or are you massively failing? And can I actually dig myself out of the hole I created or, you know, do I have a little wiggle room if I have something coming up next week?

Samantha: Yeah. I think there's, an emotional component to that as well because when students see, especially if we have a lot of small, low stakes assignments, and then in that grade book, students can consistently see like, oh, I participated, oh, I did this. You know, even if they're small, those lists of A's or B's can really motivate a student to keep on going. It's the affirmation hole that Chris just talked about to dig yourself out of, the grade book is a great compass for navigating that, but it can also feel really bad and students can get really lost. So at least having some sort of map there for students to look at and gauge where they're at is super crucial for them to stay motivated.

Adam: So, what I hear you all saying is that, taking a student first approach, when looking at the grade book is ideal, right. As we would for, for most things when designing a course or building out a course. So with that student advice or student first approach, what would you encourage instructors or how would you approach that with instructors as far as, you know, what that build looks like and what they can do to put that out there?

Samantha: I think the very first step before creating a grade book in general is to consider what you actually want measured in assessed with a point system. You know, there's terms that people use, like summative assessment versus formative assessment. And then everybody has some students or sorry, some teachers do test and quizzes. Some believe that homework is the number one way to assess a student's knowledge, so on, so forth. So I guess before even going into your LMS and creating the grade book, or considering your weights and distributions consider what is important for you, your class and your student body, what is the stuff you want to get feedback on? And what is the stuff that you actually want to test their knowledge and skill on? So that would be step one before anything else

Chris: And bouncing off of that. I would say step two or possibly three is looking at how you're, how you're building that. How do you make sure that those things continue on? Sometimes it's little things like setting in the grade book. One example would be like when you're, when you're setting it up and looking at, at that balance between, the different items is also how much flexibility are you allowing? Is there, multiple levels of assignment of a similar type, and maybe you dropped one, or maybe you haven't set at a certain level and that percentage is, you know, it might be a very large percentage of the whole, like, how does that affect your class? You know, taking a look at even your, major project or your major piece of your course, like looking at that percentage and, and figuring out how reasonable that is because sometimes you'll have things that are as high as 75, 80% of the entire class. You have to really think, is this really necessary to be this high? Are we setting our students up for failure or are we setting them up to cheat? Are we setting them up to possible negatives that could be happening? That's what look at. Then, with that, I also look at what the grade book does. You know, there's a lot of tools that are really useful for the faculty, but sometimes have negative effects on the students. So really balancing that level of what are you doing for yourself as an instructor and what's that impact on the students? Because I think there are some tools, especially that D2L offers that are fantastic for faculty and they're unfortunately really disastrous for students. One example being, and I know Samantha, you please bounce off this one is, dropping ungraded items or treating them as zero. When you treat it, great item is zero. You have that as your schema. What ends up happening is for most students is they have an F throughout up to two thirds of the entire class, even if they're doing okay, you know? And, and so most students struggle with figuring out how to read that grade book to go beyond, oh, I've done, I've gotten this grade on these assignments. They look at the whole and they really struggle figuring out how that grade is actually accurate for them. Like how, how am I really doing in the class? It's very difficult for students to figure that out. And when you, when you set it as to drop, the added step that that provides for the faculty is to go back and make sure that if a student did not do an assignment, you have to go in and put that zero. But I mean, that takes mere minutes to do, but it gives the students an accurate grade of where they're at throughout the entire course. For me, that's so important and I think that's a really student centered approach to take is to, to look at that and make sure that you're setting up those grade books for the student's benefit, not for your own.

Samantha: Yeah and to add to that, I had a colleague who made the argument one time in a meeting, that teaching students how to like average and create the mean out of all, like basically do that back end work, when it wasn't transparent to them, how that's actually more of a service to students than, just providing them with the answer, but going back to like what you're measuring and what you're assessing and what you're teaching, unless you are teaching an algebra course, there is no point in hiding or being tricky about your grade book. This should be something that students should be able to click see exactly where they stand, understand where they stand and move on to the next thing. So I completely agree with what Chris is saying. Even if it saves you just a couple of minutes to have those blades be zeros so that you don't have to fill in the blanks later. I think it's just not a very kind thing to do to your students, and it's not on, like you're saying the student has benefit.

Brian: That's interesting. The other day I was working with professor who had a rubric and it was broken down into the failing grade would be a 4.2 to 4.6 range. And we can't put ranges in D2L it can either be a one or two or three or a four. So when I work with this instructor, I'm going maybe go back and say, do we need these points in here? Can it just be a four, can it be a five, can it be a whole number instead of, you know, what is the purpose of these extra little digits you're putting in there? Is it for spelling or formatting or some other, something that we're looking at that they, that might not necessarily be covered in the rubric? And what's the benefit to the student of those, those extra little things. How can we make it simpler for them to understand this is how I'm going to get my grade. These are the things I need to do here are all the little check marks I need to check off.

Samantha: Definitely and that makes me think about too. Just how rubrics, something that took me a little bit later in my teaching career to fully understand is, the benefit of rubrics when students know how to use them and assess their own work before submitting. And so if there is something that is being accounted for in a decimal point of a point or whatever student should know what that is, so that they can you know, that reviewing and evaluating your own work before submitting is a very important process that I don't feel like we hammer home enough. And so what better opportunity to practice that then with a easily understood rubric?

Chris: Yeah. And rubrics and grades are like literally hand in hand. And I think one thing I see sometimes is rubrics. I had one class that had a rubric that was at a one point and there were like five segments that added up to that one point. And I was just like, no, can't this isn't working. You can't do that. And they had, they literally had their grade schema to be out of a hundred points for the entire course. So they had these multiple of these little assignments that have this rubric. I was just like, you know, if you changed your grading schema to go beyond a hundred points, if you change it to a weighted, since that's basically what you're going off of out of a hundred percent, you could make an assignment with a rubric and turn it to 10 points because then it would be weighted at whatever percent you needed. And it wouldn't matter that it was 10 points or one point, but that 10 points then turns that into a much easier to grade rubric and a much easier to understand as a student rubric, because you're like, okay, I got 0.7 out of one.

Brian: Let's talk about automatic grading first for some of these assignments we can turn in, what do we think about automatic grading? Just turning that on. I mean, I know what makes an instructor's life easy because if they've set it up correctly, it's automatically graded for the student. They get a score right then and there. But what could be some negatives of automatic grading?

Chris: That on the negative side, there's several things. One is with automatic grading, it limits you to multiple choice. So it limits the type of instruction you can offer with grading. I mean, I guess there are, there are no, no really it does limit you to multiple choice. I was trying to think of other options and they don't, they all end up falling into that category. And you know, that I am a huge proponent of automatic grading and multiple choice for early on small assessments, you know, reading checks, giving them multiple opportunities to take over and over again, just, you know, to, to get them to study. But for large heavily weighted assignments, automatic grading, one limits, what you can offer as, as a type of method of assessment. But two, especially for, again like a large, let's say an exam with a hundred questions. If any of your auto grades are messed up, you now have a massive assignment that, that, has been auto-graded, but auto graded incorrectly. And then you have to go back and fix those things, and then you have to fix it for all of your students. So this concept of saving time, you may or may not save that time in the long run, but more than anything, it's that, for me, it's usually the heavy weighted assessment on a multiple choice or auto graded option.

Samantha: This takes me back to 2007 where it was a fill in the blank DTL test. And I remember getting a couple wrong because I would capitalize the first letter of each of my answer, but it was supposed to be like all lowercase. And, even that, just seeing that in the grade book and immediately seeing the like six out of 10 and feeling like, oh my gosh, I thought I knew this, but I guess I failed. And I get, and I know too, you know, if you don't show with automatic grading, why they got it wrong, or you don't show the correct answer, that was like a miniature heart attack I had in my undergraduate career.

Chris: Yeah. I'm glad you brought up, fill in the blank because I've been asked to do fill in the blank options before, and I've done nine possible correct answers. And I still had students pick a different correct answer either due to spelling or a different phrase or a different word. That means exactly the same thing. Yeah, the fill in the blank is probably the one option I'm like don't ever use it unless you don't auto grade

Samantha: Or they make a typo. Then you have to decide, you know, they should know how to spell this, but also this isn't a spelling or writing class. So do I really want to mark off for this? And then that becomes a whole other issue.

Adam: I think this ties into what Samantha, you brought up, earlier, you know, the, are we doing formative assessments? Are we doing summative assessments? So these types of conversations that we all have with faculty, right. And what, you know, looking at what we're assessing and how we're assessing it and, you know, thinking about, okay, well, we can talk about these auto gradings and exams and using that. And, you know, but what other types of assessments are out there and how, how are we grading them? Are we using rubrics? You know, and I know Samantha, you and I have been, English teachers in past lives, and what that looks like, you know, from a grading standpoint and a turnaround standpoint, right. With feedback to grade written assignments and get that back, you know? So how do you approach that when with faculty who, you know, sometimes the easy route is to just put that exam up on D2L and do the auto grade, and it's less work on their part. The feedback is built in inherently, right? Oh, you got it wrong, or you got it. Right. But how do you encourage faculty to look at something different and think about, you know, what other ways they can assess student and use that as part of their course

Samantha: Regarding the time and effort it takes on the faculty side. I totally relate to that because my first year teaching four preps, 200 students. I mean, I was a shell of a human being that year. I wish I knew what I knew now. But one way that I kind of frame it is thinking about the student to student opportunities in those phases of building out a summative assessment. So something like a portfolio, for example, that the writing program at UA has been doing for quite some time, they really encourage teachers to introduce the portfolio week one. So the students know what their final assessment is going to be, and they're working. They have these benchmarks week four week etc. cetera. And a lot of that instead of a teacher reading 75 or a hundred portfolios over and over and over again, change up some groups, have some peer review, change up what a standard peer review is. I know this podcast episode, isn't about peer review, but I think it's become a little bit stigmatized because, it can feel like busy work. It can feel non meaningful students. Aren't always invested so on and so forth. But if you really embrace using your classroom as a community of, of care and feedback, and, getting everybody on the side of, you know, let's improve each other's work, let's, you know, be craftspeople in here that can take a lot of the busy labor out off of the faculty and become meaningful feedback from multiple voices towards the student's assessment. So that would be one thing I would consider is just how can you leverage your community in your class?

Chris: Yeah. And, what I do too, when I, opposed with that, I asked the first question I asked is why, you know, I don't say it that bluntly, but like, is this the, you know, I'll ask them, is this the best way to find out whether they've learned how to do X, Y, Z you know, depending on what the subject matter is? Obviously, usually they say, yes, you know, I start with that. But every once in a while, they'll say, I don't know, this is what I've always done, you know? And then that open, if they say that that opens the door to have a discussion and, you know, to really talk about why you would do something different, what, what benefits do you gain from, you know, other types of assessments beyond the standard test.

Samantha: If you can somehow manage to make your assessment more like synthesis based or like personalized if students can bring in and apply their own backgrounds, knowledge, etc. I always found that pretty exciting to read as an instructor at any point in the semester, like obviously 60, 70, 80 papers, etc., are going feel monotonous and exhausting, which is why self care super important. We'll get to that later. But, it can be really fascinating to, you know, group, group final assessments. I, I think those get a lot of slack because there's always the consideration of what if one student slacks off, what if one student is carrying the team, but if you have multiple voices doing this one project, not only are you cutting down the time for assessment, but you're also getting a wealth of knowledge from a small group of, of students. And I, I think there's just so many alternatives, rich alternatives to consider for assessment.

Adam: I think that's great. And I, you know, I had in my notes to kind of touch on feedback in this podcast, because I feel like when we talk about grades and grading systems and, you know, we'll, and we'll get into, you know, maybe some of the technical details of, you know, leveraging the LMS to provide feedback and things like that. But you both brought up some interesting ideas about how we can give feedback, not just from the professor, but peer feedback as well, and how that is also valuable for students and how you can build that in, and, you know, use and scaffold assignments and chunk assignments, so that it's not so overwhelming. And it doesn't have to be, you know, a final exam at the end of the semester or over a final paper that they have, you know, a week to write, especially in a seven and a half week course, which is what we typically design. So, you know, using some of those tools and getting instructors to, to kind of see that, how it can still be valuable, I think is, is wonderful.

Chris: I wanted to circle really back just for a second with what you just said, Adam. And the previous question is also a really well-designed rubric does make grading easier. I mean, if you do a really good rubric and you make it very clear what your expectations are, when you go to grade, you literally click a few buttons, click, click, click, you know? Yes. They did that. Yes, they did that. No, they didn't do that. Okay. At what level did they not do that? Okay. Here. Okay. Boom done. You know, obviously for a paper, you still have to read the whole thing, but for other assignments, a really thought well thought out rubric speeds up grading tremendously

Adam: In details, rubric tool. It's improved tremendously over

Chris: The last few years. And I agree here a little bit more. It's very nice

Brian: And easy to use. One of the thing I like about, the peer review is there was, I think it was the writing classes where the instructor had the entire class go and evaluate the syllabus and ask any questions right up front, about how they were going to be graded on a paper or any item that was in the syllabus. They had free reign for like the first two or three days to go in and leave a comment. I think their syllabus was done in Google docs and they could all leave comments and the instructor would go in and answer every single question. So there were no questions later on about when I turned in this paper, why did I get only X number of points instead of, you know, all these things. I think when you've got your grading scale put together, when you put in a rubric that the students can click on and see what all their little check boxes are. And then when you can also do some peer feedback, some peer reviews of the work as you're progressing through the class, I think it all just meshes together so nicely at the end. And you don't have angry emails from students. You don't have confused instructors trying to figure out how to rebalance grades and calling the D2L helpline, trying to figure it out at the last minute, because it's, how do you, how do you recommend wrapping up the semester's grade book to your instructors?

Samantha: Let me answer that question. I just really want to tag into the syllabus commenting. That's also a great opportunity to practice procedural knowledge for the rest of the semester. So I did that with my syllabus and because those couple of semesters, I was really wedded to Google drive and Google docs. And so that was also an opportunity to practice the commenting and highlighting feature of Google docs while they're working on the syllabus at day one. So you know, the more things you can wrap in, the better.

Chris: Yeah. And, and, you know, the, the thing I was going, I was keying in on is you're modeling an example for the students. Like here, here's my syllabus. Go ahead and give, give me your feedback. You're, you're throwing it back to them versus assessing them on day one. You're letting them assess you on day one. And you're being very open and transparent. I think that gains you a lot of trust. I know this is not, that's what we're not knowing where we're talking about today, but when, when, when you do think about grading, trust goes a long way with grading too, you know, it because then when you get a grade on something, they're not like, what the heck? Why, why did you give me an F I worked really hard on this, blah, blah, blah. And then you can, you can clearly, you know, it becomes really obvious why it was either an effort less than stellar grade.

Samantha: I think you're hitting two on this like cycle of feedback, which you know, at the end of every major assignment, I always gave a quick Google form to my students. And if they wanted to get feedback on the major assignment, I would take it in and I would change it for the next time. I think going kind of like preparing our students for the long term and real life, your colleagues, your friends, the people around you, that is the power dynamic of feedback that is normal. It is never just one person in your life. That is the ultimate end all be all fountain of knowledge and that's the only person you should listen to. It is always an exchange with multiple people and I think practicing it like that from students to teachers, student, to student and teacher to student, is all very, very important.

Adam: You're hitting on those, those key tenants there of you know, engagement there's student, to student, student, to teacher, student to content. This is just like an IDs dream here and talking about these things and feedback, throwing it all out there. So I, I love it. You know, so now, yeah, let's, let's kind of switch gears a little bit and look at, you know, the, some of the technical aspects of setting up that grade book and what are, you know, maybe what are some of the pitfalls that you've seen people setting up a great book in the LMS or on the flip side, what are some of the more creative ways you've seen people set up their grade book? And what are some of those technical details that you maybe advise to look out for? I know you brought up the, you know, treat ungraded items zero, but other, some other things out, there's some tips and tricks that maybe you can throw out there to faculty listening to this right

Samantha: A notes column make a notes column. I can't tell you how many times that other instructors and myself, have had to make a change in a grade, for example, maybe a student was absent for a week. And  you know, you can leave little comments within each individual assignment, but if you have to make some sort of overall note, you might as well just have a column there in your grade book where you can write a quick thing, explaining a major grade change or something that you need to keep in mind for the entire semester about the student. They would be able to see it also. I think just, it is so easy, no matter how good your memory is to let tiny little things slip and therefore end up making errors. It could even be something that you agreed with a student, some sort of like deal you made, which sounds really sketchy, not a deal, but some sort of compromise. You made about an extension. Go ahead and leave that in the notes column so that there's no errors later or you won't forget, they won't forget etc. So that is my like perfect star. I would do that every single time from here on out, because I have made errors so much

Chris: Of that, the other total flip side of that is the technical issues that I've seen. This goes, this could go on forever. So I'll narrow it down to a few. One is D2L allows conditional release of items, and it can be a fantastic option for certain things. The grade book, in my opinion, should never be hidden because even if that assignment hasn't come up yet, why not just show them what they're expected to do? There's no harm in that. And then they, they know all of the, if it's a point system, they know all of the points that they have in front of them, usually that's in the syllabus anyway. But hiding grade items is, I've seen it go south 95 times out of a hundred and I don't really see a purpose for doing it. Sometimes when it's done, it's done wrong. Like they mean to hide content, but they hide the grade. So a student completes an assignment and then the greatest hidden. So, I mean, that's literally the worst setup you could possibly have. All right, you completed the assignment now, you can't see the grade I'm about to give you, you know, make more sense. It was the other way around, but  you know, I've seen it before.

Adam: I tensed up a little bit just when you mentioned conditional release, because I, and just for the reason you said, because it's so easy to do it wrong and not just with grades, but with, with anything. Right, yeah, so I, I completely understand how that must be even more frustrating for students if you know, a grades being hidden.

Chris: The other thing I've seen is a duplicated grade book. So literally every item, like they copied it from the previous semester and then copied it again by accident. And literally they have a double grade book. And, the worst case I saw was where the instructor actually graded in one part of the duplication for one assignment and then a second part for the other. So trying to clean his grade book up literally took me weeks. We had to manually move grades from one to the other because one assignment was graded half in one grade book and half on the other. And the worst part about it, this was this was a computer science course and I'm like, dude, irony is so thick right now. That's probably been the worst thing I've seen. And the last one came down to one of two things with treating a grade items to zero or dropping them. I had faculty not having them have it as dropped and never go back and put those zeroes back in. So students who literally did nothing in the class ended up with an a  so, you know, obviously that has large ramifications.

Samantha: That's another tip would be to set yourself as the instructor little benchmark, check-ins where you just go back to the last four weeks, every four weeks, and you check on those blinks and you. The other technological thing I want to mention is intelligent agents. I've seen an instructor use those for when students don't turn in an assignment on time and automatically emails them and says, Hey, student just letting you know, I didn't receive this. These are the potential ramifications, get it to me by X date. What's also really cool about that. Especially if your assignment folders in grades tend to have redundant names like you have one type of assignment that you call Tuesday talks. For example, students just happen to sometimes turn in their assignment in the wrong folder. It happens to all of us. And those intelligent agents are also a really great way to kind of cue them in and be like, oh gosh, if she didn't receive it I must have turned into the wrong folder because I know I did it, they can fix it themselves. And then it saves you time because you don't have to hunt down your student nor do you have to receive a frantic email, on May 20th asking, why you had a zero for project number two, that you spent 40 hours on.

Adam: That’s a great use of intelligent agents. I hadn't ever really thought about that before, as far as the, you know, making sure the students know in case they turn things into the wrong place. Like  that's very helpful. Something I'll look into for the future as well, because I do have a lot of professors who, you know, have those consistent assignments, you know, what weekly assignments that are, you know, all titled the same thing, essentially. Right? Like you said, so I'm making sure that that's turned in properly, I think is good. Any thoughts from either of you on, you know, weighted versus points? Is that something you, you talk about, you think about you let the instructors kind of decide, you know, I have my own thoughts. I don't want to bias either the two of you towards my way of thinking, but, just curious to hear what your thoughts are on those, because those are the two settings essentially in D2L you know, weighted in point. So Samantha, you have any thoughts and then we'd go to Chris.

Samantha: I have a very strong staunch opinion, but the more you spoke about your secret opinion that you have, that you're going to withhold from us. The more nervous I got about my opinion being wrong, but, just to speak, frankly, the teaching places that I came from, we always used weighted. That's what I'm familiar with. I personally don't really understand the point system. I think I would find myself because sometimes I do, for example, delete assignments that I thought I was going to assign. For example, let's say we have a really, really rich unit too. I ended up extending it a week. Maybe I want to cut out the beginning of unit three. If it's weighted, that is so easy for me to adjust and keep the integrity of the amount that I originally assigned. Right for a point system, I think I would just confuse myself and end up spending too much time trying to figure it out.

Brian: Well, it sounds like it makes sense to you and as the instructor, isn't that kind of the whole point is that it needs to make sense to you, the instructor. And if it makes sense to you, then you're going to find a way to articulate that to your students as well.

Samantha: All of those listening to the podcast, please give a small round of applause for Brian for just saving me.

Brian: I think it's absolutely a perfect way to do it. If it makes sense in your mind, that's the way to do it. Now, if you start explaining it to somebody and you get really lost in the weeds with this kind of thing, then that's the point where you go, okay, hang on, time out. I need to maybe go reevaluate how I'm grading this class because XYZ. One of the questions I want to ask you both is, is there anything in particular that you've noticed your instructors have more hesitation about regarding grade books or weighted versus points, things like that.

Chris: I'm going to answer the first question and then I'll answer the second one. I'm actually, style agnostic because I think it depends on the class and it depends on what you're teaching and why. I've seen fantastic grade books that are built as points I've seen, fantastic grade books built as weighted. I've also seen the opposite of both. The benefit of weighted Samantha described perfectly is it allows you flexibility. The benefit of points is it's easier, straight up. It's easier to build a points grade book as an instructor because you don't have to worry about the weights. You just assign a point value, everything, and then you give you give yourself a total points at the end and hope that you're, it aligns to your syllabus. But I would say, I would say make sure that it lines up to your syllabus.

Samantha: Go ahead. Going back to my thought earlier about like, deciding kind of what you're measuring, how you're measuring it and how much it's worth do you find then that that's a little bit harder or maybe sometimes neglected with the point system?

Chris: Not usually, no. But it's usually obvious if it is, let's just say you have, I'll just use a couple of examples. You have a weekly reading quiz and it's 10 points. You have a weekly discussion and it's 10 points and then you have a paper and it's 500 points. Okay. You've got a problem here because I mean, it doesn't take rocket science to know that those weights are ridiculous. As long as they're reasonable within regard to each other, I don't see it as an issue. It's when it's, when it's like out like out of the moon, like a thousand points, like, what are you doing? Why do you have an assessment? That's a thousand when all your others are 10 points, that's, you know, then I would literally, I would have a discussion with the faculty to try to figure out, first of all, why? And then secondly, nicely don't do that, you know? I, like I said, I'm really, I think it depends. I think, like I said, you get a lot more flexibility with the way to grade book. However, you don't have to worry about as much about the percentages adding up to a hundred where that number system, as long as you still, I am a huge proponent of categories and that's jumping into a different topic. And as long as you're still using categories effectively, I don't want to, like I said, I don't want to go there too much yet. They both can work equally. Brian, what was your second question regarding two points and weights? I apologize.

Brian: It was just that if you've ever noticed any instructors sort of hesitating about a certain area of the grade book, how to distribute the weights, points, all that kind of stuff. Are there areas that they actively avoid because they're worried about screwing something up with the course or screwing up something with students' grades, and so they just don't want to deal with that little area?

Chris: Yes. Yeah and I would say that works on both sides of the scale. With faculty who've only done weighted, they never want to do a point system. And with faculty, who've only done points. They hardly ever want to do a way that system. I have, I have had, I have converted a few because I thought it was appropriate for what they were doing. Like when, when I see someone use a point system out of a thousand and they split their, their items into these weird numbers, I'm like, okay, you're essentially building a weighted grade book. You just didn't realize it because like, you know, like 250 points for this, or, you know, all these exercises add up to 250 point and you look at it like, okay, that's, twenty-five, twenty-five twenty-five and twenty-five percent like, it seems really obvious. 

Adam: You bring up a good, a good point with the point system, essentially being a simplified, weighted grade book, if it's done, it can be. You know, if it's done like that. You know, for me, it's the ease of use with a point system. Like you know, math, I haven't, I haven't done math, you know, in any sort of grand capacity in many years. So a weighted system seems complicated to me. I don't always understand what I'm doing. So, you know, I'd much rather just stick to points and it's easy, but essentially I'm building a weighted points system or a weighted system just using points like you said, with the categories. And it's like, well, you know, when you add all this up, yeah. That's 25% of your grade and it builds up that way, but it's an easier calculation for me. You know, they're building up, they're accumulating this number of points. If I, you know, if you have a thousand points in the course, they know, well, you need to get 900 points and you get an a, so w you know, what am I, what are my avenues, my pathways to do that. And I realized, as I'm talking with my hands, that this is a podcast, and none of you all will see that, but, you can imagine that, as well as I'm describing the, you know, what I'm talking about visual.

Samantha: I think, as you were sharing that either just came up with the most brilliant metaphor or a very, very silly one. But it's almost like working with a weighted grade book is like working with the pizza tray first, the size of the tray of which you can cook a pizza and working with the points is working with the dough first and seeing what size the whole comes out as, as you need it and bake it.

Chris: No, that, I mean, and that works and there. There are times where both are important.

Adam: I mean, if we can portray the grade book in the LMS as a pizza, I think students would be more inclined to look over that more frequently.

Chris: I do like though that Adam, you have, you prefer the point system and Samantha, you prefer the weighted system. And that's, that's really what I see is it's pretty much 50 50 people, like what they like, and as long as you're doing it well, well, it, there's no better grade book. It's, it's a matter of, is it easy to understand? Is it easy to grade? Can you find everything? If the answer is yes, to all those questions, you're doing it right. Simple as that.

Samantha: It sounds like it's time to make a flow chart graphic.

Adam: Well, I think that is a good, kind of point where we can start to wrap up this conversation a little bit as well, and think about, you know, this is the end of the semester and, you know, what does that look like? As far as wrapping up the semester grade book, what's kind of tips or tricks or advice or, or things do you have to offer for faculty when it comes to wrapping up that semester? Making sure everything's good to go before you send those grades off to print, you know, for you know, antiquated phrase right there.

Samantha: Look, I've got a tip for you right here, buddy. I would give your students a firm deadline on when you will accept. If you accept late work, when you will accept it until, and when you will accept emails, questioning, or preparing to dispute grades, it is completely a student's prerogative to ask questions to the instructor if they don't understand their grades, or if they're confused about why they have a certain assessment, but for your own health and ability to wrap up the semester, in an even mood to not accidentally change any grades because of your, your displeasure, give them a firm deadline that is not to the very last day that you can submit grades and post them to UAccess. That is my number one tip.

Brian: For those that score at home. When is that date? After the course closes?

Samantha: To my knowledge, it depends on your department. So if a reading day was a Thursday final assessments for me were that Friday at 8:00 AM. I know that some departments, their teachers go into the actual finals week, which is the following week. I would have to submit migrates that following Wednesday. So I had three working days after their final exam.

Brian: And Chris, you had a point?

Chris: Yeah, it was more of just, you know, just, just checking and rechecking, make sure you've graded everything, make sure you don't have any holes. And also if you do have a hole, be honest with yourself with it, you know, if you realize the student probably deserves an extra day or even an hour to do something because you forgot to grade it. And it might've been from week one, you know, take a look at that and be honest with yourself, model some, you know, humility and, and it goes a long way and, submit them changing them is a really a big pain. And, you know, you don't want your students to complain when they don't have to.

Adam: I think Chris, you bring up a good point, about,  you know, empathy as well with students, especially, now, you know, as, as we've gone through this last year in this pandemic and, you know, how to, how to have some empathy for students and in your teaching practices as well. That could be a topic for a whole another podcast. And maybe we'll add it to the list. Yeah.

Samantha: It goes back to what you you're assessing, right. Are you assessing how a student manages the end of the semester in a pandemic juggling a million things, especially if it's their first year in college, they're going through this, they're learning the process. It is very different than a K-12 environment. That extra hour, that extra day to get a firm assessment on their knowledge is it's very fruitful, I think.

Brian: I think, especially for students in Arizona online, who may be juggling a full-time job, a full-time family and trying their very best to get through schooling, just a little smidge of extra time goes a long way. There are a lot of factors, you know, like a pandemic that are out of people's control. And so that's, that's a very nice thing being able to show some empathy and grading. Yeah.

Chris: I think even beyond the pandemic though, it's something to think about in general. Why do you have a firm deadline of X, Y, or Z? Like, you know, why is there no wiggle room for an assignment for one day? You know, and you can also add penalties to things too, and still allow for them. And it's just, it's, it's really looking at why, why do you have it the way you have it? And is there another way to do it and ultimately, does that affect their ability to, to truly succeed? Is it, does it,  why would that be in a negative effect to allow that, that extra time, like, what are they really not learning because of that? Or, you know, you know, really dive deep in yourself and go, why do I have XYZ policy?

Samantha: It might even be worth considering non-traditional grading scheme as a frame works entirely. Just a quick plug. If anybody wants to look it up, we don't have to get into it in depth. But my last six semesters of teaching, I adapted, labor-based grading contracts, which is asking students to complete their work in the spirit of which it is asked. It's not a graded, each assignment is not graded on a point system it's just graded as did they do it in the spirit of which it was asked, did they do it on time? Did they complete it? And if a work is subpar, if you can tell that they kind of phoned it in, or didn't complete it as they should have you, you asked them to redo it. The only real big penalty in the course is trust, uncompleted or unturned in work. And it's just an interesting way of looking at grades. Everybody starts out with an A, not a zero and I've found that to be really, really great students, loved it. I know that the impulse gut reaction tends to be like, oh, guaranteed today. If they just do all the work, that's crazy. Is it crazy? That's something for you to consider and maybe a future puck.

Adam: I think that sounds like a great topic for future podcasts tonight. I would love to dive into that a little further myself. I think that sounds fascinating.

Chris: And, you know, I've found when you do things like that, they end up working harder, which is the opposite of what is assumed.

Samantha: Yeah, exactly. When the A is not the number one pinnacle to strive for it. It's just like any other class when you take I think Dr. Salah newies example, he's the one I heard about this from is when you go into town and you take a yoga class or a cooking class, they're not giving you a 78 based off your rice pudding, right. They're telling you how to make your rice pudding better. And then you're more motivated to put more cinnamon in it or whatever, lots of food I am hungry, but yeah. Anyway, consider your assessments degree books going forward. Maybe you want to try something wacky if you do it's one semester, it's one course. It's like hair, it'll grow back.

Adam: I'll put this plug out there for us. If you're thinking about, you know, trying something different with your grade book or want to talk it through, you know, our office as office hours, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, check out our website, digitallearning.arizona.edu. You can find those office hours. You can come talk to an ID, about any of these things, whether it's non-traditional grading schema is whether it's, you know, whether to use a weighted or point-based system in your course, whether it's just how to best set up the grade book in [inaudible]. We are happy to help with all of those. I want to thank Samantha and Chris for joining us, on this podcast for this month. This was a, an exciting conversation, and I really enjoyed it. So thank you and, you know, be sure to tell all your friends to listen and we'll be back next month with an even more exciting conversation about learning outcomes and alignment. So thank you very much for joining us.

Samantha: Thank you.

Chris: Thanks.

Speaker 6 : The futures of digital learning podcast is a production of the University of Arizona, Digital Learning. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas you'd like to share with our office, go to the contact us link on our website.

Authored By:

Adam Davi

Adam Davi
Senior Instructional Designer

Samantha Maxwell

Samantha Maxwell
Instructional Technologist II
Guest Author(s):
Chris Hauser
Former Instructional Designer, Digital Learning