Session Descriptions

What We Learned Converting to Alternative Grading

Friday, 1:45. Roundtable discussion.

John Estes, Ashleigh M. Fox, Michelle Breaux, Nathan Fox, and Jessica Bocanegra

First attempts to convert to an alternative grading scheme can be daunting, and getting the correct formula can take some trial and error. Roundtable participants have had the opportunity to make and fix a number of mistakes. In this session, they will share a few notes and ideas to keep in mind to help an alternative grading system run smoothly.

Alternative Grading and Student Motivation (Part 1)

Friday, 1:45

William Howitz

How Student Buy-In to Specifications Grading Changes Throughout a Term
Specifications (specs) grading was popularized by Linda Nilson in 2014. Much of its appeal stems from its potential to save faculty time, increase transparency in expectations, and improve student motivation to learn. Despite these potential benefits, a common challenge with implementing specfications grading that has been reported is student resistance. This resistance may be related to a student’s mindset and motivation. Understanding where the resistance comes from may give instructors the opportunity to better address student concerns, improving buy-in and the course learning experience. My two specific research questions are: 1) How does student buy-in to a specs grading system change throughout a term and why? and 2) How do changes in student buy-in, if any, relate to student mindset and motivation?

Katie Mattaini
Creating Grade-Independent Extrinsic Motivation via a Students-Only Discussion Section 

In my third iteration of an ungraded upper-level elective course on cancer biology, I made a major addition to the class. This change was based on discussions with former students and discussion in the higher ed community about the greater need for extrinsic motivation for neurodiverse students. In this course, students read one research paper every week, and since they are quite dense, starting the night before won’t cut it. Furthermore, students don’t present every week, so non-presenters have less motivation to engage deeply with the paper. However, in an ungraded system, there are no “points” to use as an extrinsic motivator. I set out to create a positive extrinsic motivator to help all students, but especially neurodiverse students, to get the paper read and digested each week. I worked with my administration to add a fourth hour to the class, a students-only discussion section on Wednesdays ahead of the presentations on Fridays in class. This has worked incredibly well, and I will share my experience, the benefits, and drawbacks.

Alternative Grading and Accreditation

Friday, 1:45. Roundtable Discussion

John Rieffel, Sara Atwood, Kurt DeGoede, Adam Carberry, and Shuvra Das

Proficiency-based grading and other forms of “ungrading”  offer promising ways to create more inclusive and equitable  learning environments. However, implementing these  methods hold unique challenges for the fields of Engineering  and Computer Science because of external accreditation  standards. The goal of this session is to share faculty  experiences in implementing proficiency-based grading  techniques at their institutions, and to provide a round-table  discussion focused on the challenges and opportunities of  incorporating these alternative grading structures into  Engineering and Computer Science curricula.

Grading With Portfolios

Friday, 3:00. Workshop

Brian Katz

As a community, we have accepted that courses should not  expect students to learn at the same pace and demonstrate  that learning in the same ways. Course Portfolios can align learning, assessment, and grading with this paradigm and  support deep synthesis, but this alignment and synthesis can  involve challenges for students and faculty. In this session, we  will discuss the ways that I have designed and integrated  Portfolios into courses and work on some of the challenges I  face, including scaffolding students in synthesizing and  demonstrating their learning.

Grading System PR (Getting Buy-in)

Friday, 3:00. Roundtable Discussion

Nancy Stillwell, William Howitz, Robert Talbert, and Jeff Ford

Congratulations on deciding to implement an alternative grading strategy in your course! Now come the questions… from students, colleagues, and leadership. In this session, we’ll discuss strategies to help our community “buy in” to alternative grading practices, including the importance of early and frequent communication, sharing our motivations, and building trust with all stakeholders.

Alternative Grading and Student Motivation (Part 2)

Friday, 3:00.

Raquel Prieta

How to reduce anxiety and promote language acquisition with alternative grading:
Students enrolled in foreign language basic courses are already nervous when they have to take oral exams. However, they feel an added stress when taking oral exams with traditional grading. A traditional grading in this setting does not promote self-confidence, but rather creates a learning anxiety. This creates an affective filter (a barrier) that hinders and obstructs second language learning. The “affective filter” is a theoretical construct in second language acquisition that attempts to explain the emotional variables associated with the success or failure of acquiring a second language (Krashen 1986). This affective filter is an invisible psychological filter that can either facilitate or hinder language production in a second language. In this presentation, I argue that that a different type of grading can lower the students’ affective filter, allowing the input of information to the brain, and therefore, promoting second language acquisition. During this presentation, two different alternative grading options will be discussed in order to best assess foreign language students to support their learning. Attendees will be able to share their ideas, and discuss how to apply such alternative grading to their own teaching experiences.

Dan Guberman
Self-Determination Theory and Alternative Grading

Self-determination theory (SDT) can provide a key framework for assessing student motivation in an alternatively graded course, and by extension, it can be used as evidence of the effectiveness of alternative grading approaches. SDT has a long history of informing these practices, going back at least to Alfie Kohn’s 1993 book Punished by Rewards, but the potential for SDT’s robust framework and collection of validated measures has been relatively overlooked in a lot of this work.  This presentation will consist of three elements: 1. Sharing an overview of two fundamental elements of the theory: (a) how it distinguishes 6 qualities of motivation, and (b) how research has demonstrated more internalized motivation from environments that meet students’ basic psychological needs (competence, autonomy, and relatedness). 2. Sharing resources such as scales that examine the class learning climate, students’ motivation types, and whether the environment meets students’ basic psychological needs. 3. Specific data and scholarship from my own classes that model how I have used this framework to understand student experiences in a class following an ungrading model.

Tools for Alternative Grading (Part 1)

Friday, 4:15.

Traditional grading and communication tools, as well as learning management systems, were developed with traditional grading in mind, so they don’t always suit our needs when we use other forms of grading. One difficulty with standards-based or mastery grading is the additional time needed to create or grade problems. Another is that students are used to typical percentage-based grades and have trouble knowing how they’re doing in the course at any given time. In this session, you’ll see a wide range of tools that support an instructor’s teaching directly or help them communicate grades clearly to students. Presentations will cover ideas like using existing tools (such as Blackboard or Canvas) in new ways, using open source tools, third-party tools, or creating your own scripts or spreadsheets.

David Largent

Spreadsheets for Students

Jason Miller
Open source tools to gather & summarize student work

Matthew West
PrairieLearn for assessments

Nancy Stillwell
Speed Up Grading Using LMS Annotate and Other Feedback Tools

Emergent Framework for Alternative Grading Choices

Friday, 4:15. Roundtable Discussion

Anna Santucci, Adriana Streifer, Susannah McGowan, Dan Guberman

This session explores an emergent framework for decision making for practitioners looking to critically engage with their  assessment and grading scheme choices. In conversation  with the work of a wealth of colleagues who have been  exploring the paradox of reward systems in education (Kohn,  1993) and the connections between grading and promoting  educational equity and justice (Feldman, 2019; Artze-Vega,  2020; Palmer & Streifer, 2022), this framework aims to aid  both instructors and faculty developers in untangling the  complexities involved in attempting to map “the common  ground that we seem to be walking together” as we  collectively advocate for a “wholesale change in how we  grade in higher education” (Talbert, 2021). Exploring the wide  spectrum of “progressive grading models that can help  students focus on learning rather than evaluation” (Eyler,  2021), our framework builds upon Palmer & Streifer’s Grading  Scheme Anatomy (2022) and applies Dan Guberman’s  intuitions around “grading orientations” professed by  instructors to identify circumstances, values, and beliefs  guiding their choices at each of the “assessment  characteristics” and “evaluation characteristics” decision making nodes identified in the Anatomy. Our own lived  experiences as educational developers working alongside  critically engaged faculty informs this work and guides our  inquiry.

Designing Your Grading Architecture

Friday, 4:15.

Karra Shimabukuro

Choice, Exploration, and Reflection: Reworking Ungrading/Grade Conferencing/Workshopping in Your Classroom
This presentation will provide an overview of how to get your students to choose their own research topics, demonstrate skills and content learned, present work to you, answer questions about both the work and the process, as well as reflect on all of this, arguing for what grade they think their work earned and why. Depending on the space you’re in this may be called ungrading, grade conferencing, or workshopping. In an effort to sidestep issues that come up with using specific terms, this presentation will focus on the practical resources, layout, and schedule for using these approaches in first year composition and general education classes of 25-35 at a SLAC/HBCU. I will explain how I get buy-in, explain to students, how I use it within a university system that requires progress report and grade reporting, as well as how to schedule it, plan assignments, reflections, and offer resources and examples. I will also focus on the policies, cultures, and beliefs that are foundational to why I do this, and what benefit there is for the students.

Sybil Priebe
Exploring the Intersection of Ungrading and Gamification: A Case Study with Diesel Technician Students
Gamification and ungrading are two popular teaching strategies that have gained traction in recent years. While they are typically used separately, this session explores their combination and implementation in a writing course meant just for diesel tech students at a community college. The presenter will discuss how the course structure was built around contests with judges, and how the winners were rewarded with extra points that could be used to bypass certain assignments. Through this unique approach, the presenter observed much more critical thinking on the part of the students’ when considering audience, as well as higher student motivation and engagement and increased focus on learning (winning).

Chris Creighton

Honey, I blew up the course! Reevaluating your course design through ungrading
When I started ungrading, I quickly realized cascading effects on the rest of my course. Suddenly, I had to reevaluate everything else in my course design! In this short session, I will introduce course design strategies to help you create a course where each component works together with your grading system furthering student learning. 

Addressing Doubts About Ungrading

Saturday, 12:15. Roundtable Discussion

Lori Mesrobian, Kendra Walther, and Mellissa Withers

Students today are grappling with various crises–ongoing  pandemic, climate disasters, wars, increased stress and mental  health problems, to name a few– which can make learning even  more challenging. Ungrading in our college classrooms can  help decenter grades in order to shift the focus back on to  learning, which at the same time can decrease student stress  and address inequity in traditional grading systems. However, many instructors are reluctant to try ungrading  approaches because of its challenges at various levels,  including instructor-, student-, and department/administrative levels. On this panel, three professors from distinct disciplines  who teach both online and on-campus, and both undergraduate and graduate students, will reflect on our experiences with  various forms of ungrading. We will provide examples of how  we have used this approach in our own classes and will discuss  the most common questions and comments that we hear from  colleagues that are hesitant about adopting this approach. We  will conclude by providing our lessons learned and  recommendations for other instructors who are interested in  developing innovative assessment methods.

Maintaining Balance While Alternatively Grading

Saturday, 12:15. Roundtable Discussion

Tai Munro, Ashley Stasiewich, Christina Michaud, and Melanie Butler

There is growing interest in grading alternatives such as mastery grading and ungrading. At the same time, there are concerns about how adopting these practices may impact instructor time. Fear and anxiety around managing revisions and retakes, student conferences, and providing detailed feedback create significant barriers to adoption. Instructors who adopt these practices are often motivated by a desire to serve students better, which can raise challenges in drawing effective workplace boundaries. The objective of this roundtable discussion is to bring together individuals from various disciplines, life circumstances, and levels of experience with alternative grading methods to discuss strategies for maintaining work-life balance while simultaneously offering students high quality alternative grading and learning opportunities.

Alternative Grading for Writing in STEM

Saturday, 12:15.

Alexander Halperin

Standards-Based STEM Writing Projects

The use of standards-based grading (SBG) in STEM  writing assignments offers clarity, structure, and objectivity to  students who may feel intimidated by the open-endedness of  essays. The talks in this session offer examples and strategies  to creating and implementing SBG rubrics that are simple to  understand but detailed with specific, high writing standards  resulting in a foundational introductory writing experience for  STEM students. While our focus is essays in introductory  STEM courses, we believe writing assignments in every field  can benefit from an SBG rubric. 

Steve Mang

I have been using specifications grading in an upper-division Writing for Chemists class and two upper-division lab classes (Instrumental Analysis and Physical Chemistry) for about five years. My talk would be about the experience of switching the classes to specs grading and also student survey data about their impressions of the grading system.

Cassandra Debets

Implementing peer review in introductory biology lab report writing and data analysis reports. Working with over 1000 first year university students can make it challenging for an instructor to provide meaningful feedback to help students improve. For the past three years I have used a platform that allows me to create anonymous peer review as part of the laboratory assignments. I have used this platform for participation marks, for providing a summative feedback (grading), and a blend of formative and summative feedback. I will discuss ways I have implemented this platform to create an iterative approach so students can submit a final version of their document for grading by myself (instructor) and grader/marker. Analysis has shown that this has helped students, particularly those scoring less than 60% on their initial submission, by 20 – 35%. 

Ashley Russell

Join The Club

One of the major goals in my upper level undergraduate courses in biochemistry and molecular biology and biomedical engineering is for students to learn how to read and critically evaluate primary literature. To accomplish this, I have built in journal club style days in which we work through a journal article together as a class, breaking down the introduction, methods, results, and conclusion. To prepare for these days, students read journal articles ahead of time and write summaries of the paper, as well as reflection pieces that ask them to think about and discuss what they believe to be the main point(s) of the paper, whether they enjoyed the paper, and any points of confusion they had while reading the paper. After we have our in-class discussion, students then write a post-discussion reflection to discuss whether their perspective of the paper changed after talking through it as a class, and any remaining points of confusion they may still have. All components of these journal clubs are graded using specifications grading. When I initially incorporated these exercises into my classes, I struggled immensely with how to grade them. It did not feel appropriate to dock students points for incorrectly summarizing unfamiliar and complex methodological techniques or results so I needed to come up with a better way to evaluate their writing. When I learned about specifications grading I tested it out in a classroom setting (with IRB approval) and received very positive feedback from students. With this, I graded students based on their ability to demonstrate a strong effort to summarizing each section of the paper rather than them being absolutely correct with every detail of their summary. Students felt that there was less pressure on their end to be ‘correct’ and they could focus more so on reading the paper and trying to understand it rather than reading the paper to regurgitate it for points. I have utilized specifications grading for these assignments for two years now and have spoken about it at my own university and will not be going back to traditional grading for this any time soon!

Equity and Inclusion in Alternative Grading

Saturday, 2:15. Roundtable Discussion

Katie Mattaini, Megan Richmond, Chris Creighton, and Melissa Ko

What constitutes an equitable and inclusive grading system? Does such a thing even exist? What populations of students benefit or are harmed by specific practices? What are some ways to make grading systems more equitable and inclusive within the constraints that exist in your institutional context? Bring your questions to this roundtable!

SOTL Research on Alternative Grading (Part 1)

Saturday, 2:15.

Spencer Bagley

Student perceptions of alternative grading
Instructors across higher education are increasingly interested in a number of alternative approaches to grading, such as specifications grading, standards-based grading,and ungrading, due to their many benefits for student learning. As someone who helps faculty think about how to implement alternative grading systems, I often hear concerns about what students will think about alternative approaches. I’ve gone through multiple years of student feedback in my own classes to identify common themes in their responses. In this talk, I’ll present those themes, both positive and negative, and discuss how to implement alternative grading systems in ways that students find compelling.

Jeff Ford

Linking student buy-in to performance using mastery grading
We studied performance in a Calculus I classroom over 3 terms, using mastery grading. By defining student “buy-in” as the level to which students participate in this class structure, we were able to use a clustering algorithm that revealed multiple groupings of students that were distinct based on activity throughout the semester. Additionally, we analyzed student progress, defined as the number of graded activities successfully completed each week. We found that students who progressed steadily throughout the semester, and thus had lower variability in the number of completed activities per week, tended to receive a higher overall grade. Students whose progress was less consistent, and thus exhibited higher variability in weekly activities completed, tended to receive a lower grade. Overall, this shows a relationship between buying into the method of standards-based grading and succeeding in a course.

Sandi Xhumari
Impact and Effectiveness of Alternative Grading in Calculus II and III
This presentation explores alternative grading schemes and their impact on equity in education. Attendees will learn about the Challenge Grading System, a unique approach implemented in Calculus II and III classes, and see data on its effect on student learning and experience, disaggregated by student demographics.

Alternative Grading in Large Classes

Saturday, 2:15.

Joseph Houck, Shuai Sun, Cassandra Debets, and Katrin Wehrheim

Tools for Alternative Grading (Part 2)

Saturday, 3:45.

Traditional grading and communication tools, as well as learning management systems, were developed with traditional grading in mind, so they don’t always suit our needs when we use other forms of grading. One difficulty with standards-based or mastery grading is the additional time needed to create or grade problems. Another is that students are used to typical percentage-based grades and have trouble knowing how they’re doing in the course at any given time. In this session, you’ll see a wide range of tools that support an instructor’s teaching directly or help them communicate grades clearly to students. Presentations will cover ideas like using existing tools (such as Blackboard or Canvas) in new ways, using open source tools, third-party tools, or creating your own scripts or spreadsheets.

Laura Kinnaman
Bespoke Grade Progress Reports for Each Student (Using Spreadsheets)

Firas Moosvi
OnTask for mass feedback

Jonathan Herman 

MathMatize for Assessments and Content Creation

Alyson Snowe
Using Blackboard Tools for Gamification

Steven Clontz
An Open Source Ecosystem for Alternative Grading Technologies

SOTL Research on Alternative Grading (Part 2)

Saturday, 3:45.

Adria Updike

What happens when students have unlimited retake opportunities? 
Standards-based grading was used in four sections of calculus-based physics at a university over the course of two semesters, and students in the sections were allowed virtually unlimited retake opportunities until the end of each semester. Data collected include the number of attempts taken by students and the timing of each attempt. We present a statistical analysis of the results. 

Jacob Adler

Student Perceptions of Alternative Grading Strategies in the Biology Classroom
There is a need to provide more case studies of alternative grading strategies in the biology education literature and more evidence about student perceptions of these strategies. Student participants were instructed using alternative grading strategies and then completed course metacognitive self-reflections. Qualitative content analysis was performed on open responses by developing data-driven inductive categories and then the qualitative data was coded using cross-indexing. Students perceived opportunities for: growth and improvement, a focus on mastery of learning goals and not their grade, better understanding of content knowledge, reduced stress and anxiety, and helpful instructor feedback. A follow up study was performed examining both student’s growth mindset and test anxiety using verified surveys. Data will be presented from the results of these instruments. This work adds to the growing base of case studies of alternative grading strategies in biology classrooms and some feedback on the effect that these strategies are having on students.

Jayme Dyer
Multiple Grading Schemes Especially Benefit Students of Color
In our community college Biology, Math and Physics courses, we implemented Multiple Grading Schemes (MGS). In MGS, we use points-based grading that breaks the final course grade into component parts (i.e. homework is 20%, quizzes are 20%, etc), but rather than assigning one grading scheme, we use multiple. Each grading scheme emphasizes a different aspect of the course (i.e. summative assessments only, or a balance between homework, quizzes, and summative assessments). At the end of the semester, each student’s grade is calculated using each scheme and they receive the highest grade. Using 4 semesters of final course grade data, we asked what percentage of students benefited from MGS. Using self-reported racial identity classification, we found that a higher proportion of Black and Hispanic students benefited from MGS relative to White students. We argue that Multiple Grading Schemes may be one useful tool to improve equity in STEM in higher education.

Implementations of Ungrading

Saturday, 3:45

Michelle Corvette

Gamification Ungrading: Enhancing Students’ Self-Determination and Learning with UDL
Sustaining student motivation about learning and engaging them in classrooms can be arduous with various distractions vying for their attention. Implementing gamification ungrading assessment strategies helps transform courses into exciting, challenging, and achievable opportunities for growth. Gamification ungrading is a set of practices that explore students’ self-determination and agency in the course through applied Universal Design Principles emphasizing multiple pathways for success and engagement promoting equity and inclusion for diverse learners. We will explore the possibilities of gamification ungrading to help reduce negative student emotions, increase student focus on learning, and increase students’ actual learning in the classroom.

Dina Newman
Implementing a “Feedback before Grades” Policy in an Undergraduate Genetics course

I have implemented a policy of “feedback before grades” in my Genetics class for the past two years. They do group activities every day on Google docs and get written feedback on that before it is turned in. They take pre-class quizzes on Codon Learning that are aligned to Learning Objectives and provide immediate feedback and no point reduction until the 3rd try on each question. In class, open book exams are graded by assessing each Learning Objective as “met” or “unmet” and then students are encouraged to revise their answers for the “unmet” ones for full credit. Students seem to be more motivated and less anxious with this policy. Anecdotally, I had more students from underrepresented groups attending office hours and sticking with the class instead of withdrawing or mentally checking out. Learning gains were strong as measured by the Genetics Concept Assessment.

Laura Cruz & Meghan Owenz
Labor Based Grading as Compassionate and Collaborative Pedagogy 

For this contributed session, the presenters will discuss a pilot project focused on student-co-creation of labor-based grading  in an upper division Human Services course.  In addition to describing how the grading was implemented, we will present the results of our mixed-methods study, including both survey and focus group data.  Our findings suggest critical linkages between alternative grading and indicators of student well-being such as lowered stress and anxiety.