Week 1 of my newly-transformed specs grading course, research methods, is in the history bin, and I have much to report. As you may recall, I decided to overhaul my research methods course with this new system over the summer, and am teaching it for the first time this semester. Here on ALPS I will be chronicling my experience with the course, sharing with you the ups and downs over the course of the semester.
Check out my initial post on Day 0 here, and previous posts on specs grading here, here, here, and here.
So how did my first two weeks go?
Hello, ALPS readers! I’m back after a long summer and spring sabbatical, and am eager to get back in the classroom and talk all things pedagogy here on ALPS. I’m starting a new series where I outline in excruciating detail my experiences using Specifications Grading. I’ll be sharing my materials, talking about the ups and downs, and reflecting on this unique grading system throughout the semester.
We’ve given quite a bit of attention to specifications grading in the past few months. I did a presentation on it at the ALPS workshop at the University of Surrey in May as I started working on adapting one of my own courses to this new system. I also consulted several former students and children-of-friends about what they thought of the system in abstract, and the general consensus ranged from “shrug” to “that might be cool.” Experts in analysis, my young consultants.
In a nutshell, Specifications Grading is a system where all assignments are clearly linked to course learning outcomes, given clear specifications on what students need to do to earn a passing mark, and graded on a pass/fail style system, where a pass is a high bar (typically a B). Assignments are bundled together by learning outcome, and course grades are assigned based on the bundles that students complete. So, higher grades go to students that either complete more bundles (achieving more learning outcomes) or higher-level bundles that demand students complete more complex work. The course also employs flexibility mechanisms such as tokens to let students revise or reattempt a failing assignment, forgive a course absence, or gain some other kind of benefit. This system is supposed to ensure that all students who pass the class are achieving the minimum learning outcomes for the course, but also puts their grade into their hands by removing the mystery behind grades (no longer 170 out of 200 points, but ‘excellent’ ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory) and letting them choose which grade bundle to achieve.
Check out our previous posts for more general information on Specs Grading, or check out this great community of scholars working with the system.. For this new series, I am going to write throughout the semester about my experience in adapting and teaching my research methods course to this system.
Some of more widely-known practical guides for college teaching:
A recent addition to the list is Learning Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Barkley and Manor (2016).
The bulk of this book consists of an easy-to-use directory of assessment techniques, many of which can be found in the other books. Here, however, the emphasis is on how the data generated by each technique can be collected, analyzed, and packaged for dissemination.
The focus on the links between learning goals, learning activities, and outcomes assessment can be summarized with two questions people should be asking themselves: Continue reading
Here is the third installment of L. Dee Fink’s course design method. Readers may want to consult Part 1 and Part 2, or my book review. In this post I will be looking at final details.
How am I going to grade?
I am going to jump to a 2,000 point scale for calculating course grades, partly because of a new rubric for reading responses. I will also need to build rubrics for the activities related to game design. I will let students evaluate each other’s collaborative skills through the usual teammate evaluations.
By looking back at the primary components that I identified in Part 1, I can see that I forgot about the need to assess the civic engagement project. In the USA, most students won’t care about or complete tasks that are not graded. Continue reading
Here is the second installment of using L. Dee Fink’s method of course design. In the first installment, I ran through the first phase of the process, identifying primary components. Now I’ll be assembling those components into a coherent whole by aligning the course’s schedule and topics with what students will be doing.
What topics will I introduce? (thematic structure)
I am using travel as a unifying theme that introduces students to:
- Identity politics.
- Personal transformation.
- Conflict, prejudice, and injustice.
- Global interconnectedness.
What will students need to do? (instructional strategies) Continue reading
Last month I participated in the annual Reading of the Advanced Placement US Government exams. In May, over 300,000 students in US high schools took this exam, consisting of a series of sixty multiple choice questions and four free responses, usually in the hope of earning college credit or placement in a higher level course. The multiple-choice items are easily dealt with, but someone has to score the free response questions. Enter the AP Readers, a collection of several hundred college professors and high school teachers who voluntarily spend a week sitting in a convention center, scoring essays for eight hours a day, seven days straight. Sound awful? It gets worse: we actually score responses to the same essay question, over and over again. On a good day, I score about 450 essays, all answering the same question.
So why have I put myself through this tedious exercise for nine of the last ten years?
As promised, here is the first in a series of posts in which I apply Fink’s method to the design a specific course. The method is a simple mental exercise that forces one to think of a course as a system. Fink divides the process into three phases; this post will outline the first, which is to identify primary components. Please note that Fink uses a reverse order for the third and fourth items. In my mind, what gets assessed comes before how it gets assessed, but I will leave it up to you to decide whether it is better to stick with the sequence as Fink presents it in his book.
Where am I? (situational factors)
This will be my third iteration of teaching a first-year seminar to entering college students, but my subject — human migration — is new. Because of academic and personal interests over the years, I have some familiarity with immigration and refugees. Also I’m a first generation college student who might be able to teach skills that will help first-year students be academically successful. So I’m enthusiastic about teaching the seminar.
About eighty percent of students in the class will enroll because it fit their schedules. Other than perhaps two or three students who are immigrants or the children of immigrants, the class will have no prior knowledge to build on and little initial interest in the topic. A major challenge thus will be motivating students to engage with lived experiences and perspectives that are very different from their own. And guess what? Retention is critical at a tuition-dependent institution like mine.
Where do I want to go? (learning goals) Continue reading