Goal-Oriented Assessment

With the existing transition from traditional education inspired by the notion of standardization toward more recent approaches, there is an emphasis on treating students as individuals. Taking this individualist approach seems necessary in both teaching the course content and assessing the student work. In “The Puzzle of Motivation” Pink discussed the trio of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the most important aspects of self-actualization, which is somehow missing in today’s world of business and education. Also, Elbow (1993) discussed a number of problems associated with rank-based assessments and the benefits of qualitative evaluating methods. The contemporary way of looking at education and the two arguments made by Pink and Elbow call for a need for individual goal-oriented assessment plans. In the context of prevalent practice in higher education, such interrelated assessment methods do not typically take place. The common method is that students take a number of different core and elective courses, with each course having a separate assessment method. Although there are some levels of autonomy in selecting the elective course, the existing assessment methods do not really encourage autonomy, mastery, and any purpose other than passing the course and moving to the next semester. Nor is there a goal-oriented assessment attached to a self-development plan based on the gradual mastery of the curricular content. I think a major takeaway from the Pink and Elbow’s argument for contemporary pedagogical practices is that beyond base-line assessment techniques, instructors need to work with students to develop an individual self-development plan. Then, based on a primarily qualitative assessment method, instructors should help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and move toward their self-set goals. Pursuing a set of goals that have personal meanings while receiving proper feedback oriented toward personal achievement could increase intrinsic motivation and lead to student success (Cherry, 2017).

References:

  • Cherry, K. (2017). Intrinsic motivation. (Blog Post)
  • Elbow, P. (1993). Ranking, evaluating, and liking: Sorting out three forms of judgment. College English55(2), 187-206.
  • Pink, D. (2009) The Puzzle of Motivation. (YouTube Video)

Is there a connection between assessment and motivation?

I think the first thing that anyone in the Higher Education master’s program thinks of when they hear the term “assessment” is probably not a positive experience from two classes we had to take during our first year.  This is not because of anything that our professor did, but more of the material and the assignments/projects we had for the courses. However, assessment is meant to be positive when we are thinking about how we can go about improving a process or learn more information about a process.

On a different not, after watching The surprising truth about what motivates us video for a second time, a lot of what is introduced was very interesting and provided a different take on several myths or assumptions many of us have about motivation and success. Even seeing the video before, I was still surprised that the large incentives did not lead to the most success. When thinking about why this would be the case, I am assuming the stress of wanting to get the large incentive adds pressure resulting in lesser performance. Whereas, a normal incentive of wanting to achieve some result, removes the increased pressure while doing the task. Along the same lines, Making the Grade: The Role of Assessment in Authentic Learning made a comment that “something like 90 percent of a typical university degree depends on unseen, time-constrained written examinations, and [instructor]-marked essays and/or reports.” I’m not surprised by the large percentage, but it is more interesting when combining that statistic with the results from the video. This could mean that students are not performing as well as they should be or expected to perform since they are under pressure and the stress of performing at a high level. I don’t know how this could ultimately change or how we would go about assessing the success in the class without using the examinations or an equivalent measure.

Also from the video I mentioned above, was how much autonomy in the workplace can result in success or an increase in production. The example used in the video shows how much even one day of autonomy can lead to success. It would be interesting to see if academics were able to mirror something similar to possibly find an increase in success or motivation.

Fear of Failure

Kohn’s article mentions that grading is detrimental to students. “Psychologists worry because grades fix students’ attention on their performance” (Kohn, 2011, p.2). In addition, grading systems “promote a fear of failure even in high-achieving students” (Kohn, 2011, p.2). I decided to find out how this fear may impact performance. Jennifer Crocker is “a psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research” (Dittman, 2002). According to her, worrying about grades may impact memory (Dittman, 2002). Dr. Crocker “speculates that students who base their self-worth on academic performance might become anxious and distracted and threatened by feelings of failure, and, as such, their anxiety might then interfere with their memory” (Dittman, 2002). This is important because worrying about grades (fear of failure) may negatively impact memory, which may lead to low grades.

Dittman, M. (2002). Self-esteem that’s based on external sources has mental health consequences, study says. Monitor on Psychology, 33(11), 16. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/dec02/selfesteem.aspx

Kohn, A. (2011). The Case Against Grades. Educational Leadership. Retrieved from https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/case-grades/

Fear of Failure

Kohn’s article mentions that grading is detrimental to students. “Psychologists worry because grades fix students’ attention on their performance” (Kohn, 2011, p.2). In addition, grading systems “promote a fear of failure even in high-achieving students” (Kohn, 2011, p.2). I decided to find out how this fear may impact performance. Jennifer Crocker is “a psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research” (Dittman, 2002). According to her, worrying about grades may impact memory (Dittman, 2002). Dr. Crocker “speculates that students who base their self-worth on academic performance might become anxious and distracted and threatened by feelings of failure, and, as such, their anxiety might then interfere with their memory” (Dittman, 2002). This is important because worrying about grades (fear of failure) may negatively impact memory, which may lead to low grades.

Dittman, M. (2002). Self-esteem that’s based on external sources has mental health consequences, study says. Monitor on Psychology, 33(11), 16. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/dec02/selfesteem.aspx

Kohn, A. (2011). The Case Against Grades. Educational Leadership. Retrieved from https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/case-grades/

Is Grading a Necessary Evil?

In preparation for this week’s discussion, I have decided to post on the question, “Is grading a necessary evil?” In order to answer that question, first you would have to define a “necessary evil”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a “necessary evil” as something unpleasant that must be accepted in order to achieve a particular result. I, however, … Continue reading Is Grading a Necessary Evil?

Pink Time! Raising a question…!

The first time that I heard about Pink Time was in the Motivation and Education course when the designers of this idea inspired by  Daniel Pink’s TED talk and his book, were invited to our class to talk about this novel idea. That’s how it works:

They ask their students to skip the class three time times, do ANYTHING that they like, absolutely ANYTHING; no limitation or guideline,  share what they did with the class in the next session, and assign a grade to themselves.

They found it to be a very successful experience. Challenging students to learn something because they like it not for any other reason and helping them to become self-regulated learners.  At that point, for me who believes in the chaotic and unstructured nature of learning, this sounded like the most fascinating idea.

Fast forward to six months later, last semester, I took a course in which Pink Time was part of the syllabus. In the middle of the semester, we skipped one class, did whatever we wanted, shared it with people in the room in the next session, and assigned a grade to ourselves. I decided to read an article about STEAM education which I had in mind for a long time (which by the way, even with the excuse of Pink Time, I did not read the whole thing). As fun and entertaining the next session after the Pink Time session was, hearing about everybody’s activities and what they did, I did not like the whole experience. Here, I’m going to describe what I felt without analyzing it. While trying to figure out what I should do for my Pink Time, I found myself doing it with a sense of obligation. I was not excited. I was not adventurous (stayed within the academic structure (read an article)), and I definitely did not enjoy it. I was surprised by my feelings toward this experience to which actually had a pretty positive attitude toward before I got involved in it. This experience made me think whether this activity in this form is appropriate for all levels. When people get to the level graduate school, they are pretty much self-motivated. I loved the case made by Daniel Pink, but should the implementation of his idea in the form of Pink Time be modified for the different educational levels?

I look forward to reading your comments and ideas about this question.

No More Grades

I’ve never really liked grades as a student. I remember in one stats class, I rushed through an exam and miscalculated something, although the formula was right. I got partial credit and I thought about how silly that was. I clearly understood the subject matter, and outside of a test situation I would have had time to check my work. I absolutely hated how easy it was for your GPA to drop from one bad class, but your GPA couldn’t go past a 4.0 no matter how well you did. But still, I was motivated by grades… in my mind my entire future depended on it!

As I started doing this weeks readings and watching videos, I initially thought about how grades motivated me to do “better” and how they might be useful for those it helps. But then I came across a point from Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades” about how motivation through grades can undermine the true purpose of learning. I also really liked the idea brought up in Dan Pink’s TedX talk about how money can only be used as motivation. He says if you pay people enough so that they are not thinking about money, they will think more about the work. Just like that I think grades can motivate people, just like some amount of money can motivate people, but in both cases it’s not the right type of motivation to foster creativity and mindfulness in what you are doing because you are not focused on the right thing. This sentence also came to mind from Kohn’s paper… “the more students are led to focus on how well they’re doing, the less engaged they tend to be with what they’re doing.” This all ties back to last week in class and our discussion around mindful learning versus mindlessness.

I really think I would like to incorporate these ideas into my teaching philosophy and teach without grades (or at least diluted grades). Kohn has some great ideas about providing qualitative feedback to students instead and not falling into the trap of categorizing students still. I wonder though if teaching in this way too late in the game (college level) is too late for students to become mindful learners. I also think about my ability to apply this concept to the fullest as a teacher, since I have been brought up by grades. I hope I can!

Keep Calm and Dismantle the Grading System?

 

 

 

Last semester a student came up to me after class upset over receiving an 85 on an assignment. She was a senior and didn’t want to end up with an A- or B for the course after three years of a stellar GPA. She was nearly distraught. I wanted to tell her 100 things about how one (still good) grade for one course in undergrad means very little in the grand trajectory of her life. But it wasn’t the time to belittle or minimize her emotions. I told her to rewrite the essay, an offer I extended to the entire class, and she pulled her grade up to an A. But her rewrite wasn’t at all like I’d hoped. I could tell she went through the motions of adding in my suggestions with little growth or depth of thought.

In The Case Against Grades, Alfie Kohn offers an example of how to give feedback and determine a final grade (as require by the institution) without actually assessing and offering letter/number grades on individual assignments. During the semester one professor offers students feedback on what they are doing well and what they need to improve on, making notes in his grade book. At the end of the term, Kohn said this professor meets with each students and asks them what they learned and how they learned. He then asks them what grade they believe reflects their work, and they arrive at that value collectively.

I love this idea, in part because I love working on larger projects with students — longer papers with several peer reviews and revisions or projects with video editing — but students hate having their grade rest on one single assignment, even if I grade multiple drafts or aspects of the assignment throughout the semester. This kind of arrangement would (hopefully) allow students to feel less pressure about meeting the marks and focus on their project by focusing on what they learned/gained through their work on the project.

I want to find out more about this system, like how open the professor was in explaining how the grades would be assigned at the beginning of the course and if any students bucked at the system.

This is absolutely the kind of system I would love to try, BUT what are the implications for a doctoral student or a new professor? How might my department feel about this, especially if a student (after the fact) challenges their final grade? Would I be left defending (instead of the grades I’ve assigned on concrete assignments) an entire teaching philosophy? Is this the kind of grading system that only tenured professors secure in their positions feel comfortable trying? Has this grading system ever been implemented at Virginia Tech?

I’m interested. I want to do it. But there takes a certain nerve to pull off something like this, and I’m not sure I have it yet.

Do they care about all this time I spend giving feedback?

Every semester I have taught, I have a conversation with my spouse that goes something like this:

Me: Ugh. I hate grading
Spouse: Don’t you want to teach for a living?
Me: Yes! But, it takes forever because I give so much feedback. I want students to know that I care and how to improve for next time.
Spouse: That’s cute. Your students don’t care. They want the grade so they can move on with their lives. Just give them the grade so you can move on with yours.

Every single semester. Am I delusional? Narcissistic perhaps? Do they genuinely care about my random comments about the content or how to demonstrate critical thinking further? Or do they just want to know why they got points off?

Kohn (2011) makes a case against grades, as students’ interest in learning is diminished and reinforces the desire to complete the easiest task. Further, quality of thinking is reduced when grades are given. Dan Pink (2009) reiterates this phenomenon in businesses that provide monetary incentives for completion of tasks. In several studies outlined by Pink, providing incentives for tasks involving anything above mechanical skill (simple if-then tasks) leads to poorer performance. This is completely contrary to everything economists have always hypothesized. Indeed, my fear of removing individual grades would lead to students never turning in their assignments. I know I’ve been there myself as a student. With so many balls in the air, why would I try to juggle one more thing that I won’t get any credit for?

Instead of motivating through incentives, Pink argues that we need to be thinking about how to motivate through autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I completely agree with this line of thinking. The “volunteer” work I’ve done throughout my time as a graduate student has fit into one of these three ideas. If I have control over my own actions, I can increase my skills, or I feel that I am making the world a better place, I am motivated to use my precious “extra” time to do these tasks.

This does help me conceptualize the reduction of grades in my classes. But only to a small degree. There is a very real tension between a teaching philosophy that minimizes grades and a university that demands them. As an instructor of record, I am expected to administer exams of some sort. In an online class, that historically equates to multiple choice exams. I HATE multiple choice exams. They don’t test for learning. Instead, I prefer to place more emphasis on the discussion boards and application assignments that I assign. But these have rubrics that are assessing for specific competencies, like critical thinking and attention to context. Lombardi (2008) offers excellent suggestions for rubrics that include such competencies, so I believe I am on the right track.

But I am still left wondering…..Do my students care about my feedback? Or just the grade at the end of the day? What if they do? What if they don’t? How do we, as instructors, foster motivation through autonomy, mastery, and purpose? What would this look like?

I hope I don’t have to tell my spouse she’s right….I hate it when that happens.

 

References

Kohn, A. (2011). The case against grades. Retrieved from https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/case-grades/

Lombardi, M. (2008). Making the grade: The role of assessment in authentic learning. Retrieved from https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2008/1/eli3019-pdf.pdf

Pink, D. (2009, August 25). The puzzle of motivation [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y&feature=youtu.be

Grades-what are they good for?!?!

What grade did you get? By asking that, are we really just asking how well someone did at memorization and regurgitation? What is a grade? What does it mean? How well does it reflect a person’s learning of a subject? I could go on a little longer with these questions but you get the idea. Be careful how your answer, I am grading you there. If professors, teachers, educators want to assess the information a person has retained and provide feedback as to that assessment, we must do better than a test and grade. As a new professor of record, I tell my students they all have an A in the class. To maintain that, they must be active in class participation and provide some evidence they are learning something. As long as a student finishes the semester knowing one new cool and exciting (yes, this is arbitrary) fact, they have succeeded in the class. To assess them, my assessments are not based on specific question answer tests. Rather, I give essay tests where they just need to use the stuff discussed in class and make a strong argument. I don’t have right or wrong answers as long as you use valid information to support your choice. I used to, and still do to an extent, suffer from test anxiety. I no longer become physically ill and have to use the bag (you know what I mean) but I still get anxious and nauseous before taking a test. Trust me, it is no fun filling out a multiple choice sheet with sweaty hands. Why do we, the educational system, put students through this today? The readings offer critiques of our current system and discussion for alternatives but does that matter? We need to break the system, turn it upside down, share ideas on how to get better assessments. I don’t think we are even testing the students but rather testing ourselves on how well we pass on information. If that is the case, just give them answers, then give them an A, they give us a positive SPOT review and we all win.

Yeah for no education where everyone wins (or is it loses but graduates?).

I think this blog is a difficult test this week. I don’t agree with Standard Of Learning tests. I actually think the acronym SOL is very appropriate. I don’t care for current testing or assessment systems still used in higher education, so staying positive is difficult. RISE UP GEDI and CHANGE THE WORLD!! At least the way we test students and ourselves.

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