Revising Assessment

I developed a syllabus for new 1st semester communications course. It includes 40% for non-traditional (self-grading/contract grading) assessment of student writing and learning. I’ve had some skeptical looks when I’ve told colleagues this…

“Students can’t grade themselves.”

“They’re not ready for that in first semester.”

“Everyone will get an A – it’s too easy.”

I disagree.

I did have a moment of panic after submitting the syllabus. What if it was too ambitious? What if it’s too confusing for students? What if it is a crazy idea? Deep breaths. Because it isn’t something I just did on a whim. I’ve been thinking and reading and discussing this a lot over the summer, and on the heels of a successful non-grading point system with a 4th semester ethics class last year (where I received some of the most thoughtful, interesting, passionate assignments ever!)…well, this seemed like a starting point for what I envision learning to be.

I’ll still teach bias, fallacy, credible research, analysis, citation as per normal, but student work in first 7 weeks will be given feedback, no-grade, and I’ll ask students to submit reflections explaining and demonstrating how they meet objectives, and how they might improve. All the learning will be applied to an independent (but scaffolded) research project in the second half of the course.

Not gonna lie – I’m exited about this approach to the course. My growing concern is that grading writing is too punitive and subjective. It feels like students are waiting to be told what’s wrong rather than  focusing on how to be better writers. I think this goes deeper into what it means to communicate ideas clearly and gives students agency. And because one of our new curriculum objectives is to use digital media to communicate, I am hoping to make it low stakes enough that students are willing to take more risks with their work.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Links to people and articles that have helped me on my path

Cathy Davidson really got me started thinking about non-traditional assessment practices years ago, and Jessie Stommel and Hybrid Pedagogy have long been instrumental in helping me grow as an educator. I’m also so thankful for the St.Lawrence College colleagues I have who are always up for conversation about these things.

A few other links are below:

And just after I panicked about submitting, I saw this timely post.


After a July of East coast ocean and kayaks and hikes and seafood and yachts, reading (current book: Robertson Davies – What’s Bred In The Bone), dog walking, swimming and violin practice, it is August.

And in my world, that’s time to start slowly getting my head back into translating those thoughts of work that come and go over vacation to actions. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to teach a revised and revamped version of communication (COMM 110) that includes critical thinking and digital elements, but am still mulling – not what to teach (that’s easy), but what to leave out because I only have 14 weeks and I’d rather dig deep than cover too much superficially.

So there’s that.

And a brief Twitter conversation with one of our Associate Deans over the summer twisted my thinking as well. It started with a historical analysis using gifs that we had both read and ended with me wondering how to add that in as an option to a communications assignment.

More on that later…

Today, I’m starting the process of getting my floating ideas set into a more concrete format so students can follow them and know how I am going to grade them (or how they will grade themselves…in one iteration of my ideas!)

But to frame all of it, all of what I am trying to do, I have one word: Compassion. Remembering that students are human with their own needs and stresses and complexities. Building curriculum around that is maybe one of the most important things we can do as educators.