Making the Grade

GradesAs part of my self-imposed review of changes to make in my teaching, I’ve decided to experiment with a different grading system. Until now I’ve always created a set of proportionally-weighted assignments that students must complete. For example, in an online course on the Middle East I have previously calculated the grade as follows:

  • Participation in online discussion =  10 percent
  • Essay responses to one topic question each week = 30 percent
  • Two analyses of articles from peer-reviewed journals = 30 percent
  • Final exam = 30 percent

My main goal for this course is for students, many of whom have personal experience in the Middle East, to read and write about scholarly literature on the region as much as possible. Yet this system of grading imposes limits on how much students read and write.

For the near future I will calculate final grades according to the accumulation of points on a 1,000 point scale, and allow students to earn more points if they do additional work of sufficient quality. Using my Middle East course again as an example, the new grading scheme looks like:

  • Contributions to online discussion = up to 100 points.
  • Essay responses to topic questions, three available questions per week = up to 100 points each.
  • Journal article analyses, optional, maximum of two = up to 100 points each

For my undergraduate courses, this system has several potential benefits. When assignments correspond to different percentages of the final grade, the majority of my undergrads are unable to use basic arithmetic to gauge their performance. Now they can identify a goal at the beginning of the semester and track how close they are to achieving it by simply counting. The system also might encourage students, especially those who get low grades on assignments early in the semester, to expend more effort. And increased transparency in the relationship between effort and performance might reduce grade grubbing when the semester ends.