6:30 pm: will you give me an A+?

Today is Sunday, according to the calendar we use to “track” the pass of time, and also based on my current location, because in Europe/Africa, Monday is already starting. Here in Blacksburg, VA, it is 5:15 pm, and I still have some time left to publish this post and make it available to the GEDI community to “make it count”, otherwise my efforts might not receive a corresponding grade. Previously, by this time, I would have already published something, or being close to finish, but this weekend was different. For multiple reasons I got derailed from reading and writing, and no, not because I can skip one post (apparently no more than one), simply because I did not feel like doing it, although I always had on mind to write before the deadline, which is why I finally started the readings and now trying to write. What time is it? It is 5:25 pm.

Ten minutes of my life have gone writing the introductory paragraph, and I have the option to erase it and lose the precious time, or leave it as it is and just keep writing, hoping that it was good to keep you reading… But if you decide to leave, then, I guess I am lucky that this post is not being assessed by the number of comments (or is it?), and there is no way to know how many people have read it (or is there a way?), in fact, I have no clue how it is graded at all. But if time spent writing could be a criterion in my grade, then let me share with you, it is 5:34 pm. Which means that I am writing a paragraph every 10 minutes more or less.

It is likely that time spent doing the assignment cannot be used to grade, and that is good, because each person takes different paths to accomplish something. For some it might take a long time, while others are able to convey a clear message really fast. Some might need to erase and erase until the desired product has been achieved, others might have a natural easiness and clear vision from the first time. I could go on and on with examples of how people learn differently or how tasks are done differently, and could potentially site research related to this, and yet, no matter how many situations have been described, all students are typically evaluated the same way: same test, same time limit, same grading scale, etc… is this fair? By the way, it is 5:44 pm.

Alfie Kohn, author of “The Case Against Grades” (2011) and other articles, provides a nice narrative to this case, and is striking that some of what he discusses is not new. Some of the thoughts that caught my attention in respect to the effects of grading are:

  • A danger in grading is that students would not take intellectual risks to avoid failing a class
  • The competition between classmates leading to fear of failure and cheating
  • No desire to learn, rather desire to simply pass…. There is no real motivation towards learning

It is 5:54 pm, and comparatively speaking, the lines immediately above kind of resemble a paragraph, so it seems I am being consistent in my writing speed, perhaps this could be a measure of assessment?

I have no idea what you might think is the reason for me sharing the time after each paragraph is completed, what I do know, is that whatever you think it is, you have a very high chance of being wrong. Therefore, if you were grading this post based on how much non-relevant details were included, you could not (or should not) take any deductions for me sharing the time… and that takes me to reflect how in previous grading that I have done, I used to scratch parts of lab reports written by students, with aside comments like: “this is not necessary”, “you are wasting paper” and even if I didn’t necessarily took points of from their assignment for “excessive” writing, I did truncate in a way their learning process. Likely, I framed future reports to be within certain constraints, and that could have resulted in future poor performance by avoiding key words with the fear of being too much. It is 6:05 pm.

So, to clarify the reason to keep writing the time, in case I could be judged for including non-relevant information: I felt like doing so. Liu and Noppe-Brandon (2009) point out to the value of “imagination first”. I have to admit that while writing this post, I never imagined that it would take me 10 minutes per paragraph, I did however, imagined how I wanted to share my thoughts on Kohn’s article and how I wanted to finish my last paragraph discussing the power of imagination. But, I have run into a problem, it is 6:15 pm, which means that the time I have allotted myself to write this post has come to an end. Will I be penalized for my honesty?

Ok, I didn’t want to just cut today’s journey like that, because I do have some more inquiries to share: Have teachers become “killers” of potential great student’s ideas? Is the education system promoting the assassination of imagination? Is the “job market/world” dictating how learning should occur? Sometimes it seems like that is the reality, and even though I believe that student’s performance, especially in engineering and medicine must be evaluated, to make sure that someone’s life will not be at risk. I do have to admit, that assigning numbers or letters, and ranking students by performance does not sound like the best alternative after all.

Ok, it is 6:25 pm, time to choose a title for this post, publish and move on…

Let’s keep learning. Let’s keep educating. Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s keep asking WHY. Let’s continue to be more MINDFUL… give me an A+ 🙂 … and then let’s discuss how to remove grades from the education system… 6:30 pm

Carlos F. Mantilla P.

Disclaimer: the content of the class blog posts is not actually graded, but felt like the allusion to it being graded was important to better convey my thoughts and frame some of my questions/concerns


Filed under GEDI F17

14 Responses to 6:30 pm: will you give me an A+?

  1. Zhanyu (Grace)

    Carlos, this is such a funny post, and dare I say, quite imaginative. I loved the time keeping, and I loved that section where you talked about how different people approached writing differently, how it is much easier for some than others. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who would write, then erase, then write, then erase, until I got something I kind of liked. Kind of. The point is that often the process of learning gets glossed over in assessment. A grade is some sort “packaged summary” of the end-product and hardly reflects your learning process (and the amount of time invested). Isn’t it frustrating when you’ve spent so much time on something only to find out the person next to you spent less time but got a higher grade? Testing is also restrictive, depending on what exactly is being tested. The time restraint adds unnecessary pressure. I see a number of cases where students worked hard to learn the material, but panicked and blanked on tests. Are we testing the learning or testing to see who can think quickly under pressure? The latter is a valuable attribute, but not the only valuable attribute. It’s too bad when so little of a student’s learning gets reflected on grades and tests.

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Grace, you made a lot of good points, and thanks for saying the post was funny, that is one of my goals when writing, to be funny and yet somewhat critical… Now I totally agree that sometimes the learning process kind of disappears when an assignment is graded, however, under current circumstances I think a grade still tells you if you learned the material in a “satisfactory way”, depending on what is being graded… other aspect is that of learning to think and work through the problem yourself, even if the end result is not “correct” that part is not really valued, in general… and if someone is faster than me to finish and does it good, then I am happy for that person, lol… I like professor that really give you time to finish, happy to have encounter a couple of those along the way

  2. Syeed Md Iskander

    You succeeded to make me read the whole, hence you deserve a mindful A+. I like the idea of evaluation for engineering and medical students to ensure that they have learned sufficient knowledge. However, for other disciplines, the alternative to grading seems a difficult task.

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Syeed, so after reading other blogs, and reflecting more on the matter, I still believe that some sort of assessment (without a grade) or an actual assessment (with a grade) is needed, like previously mentioned in engineering and medical fields… however, the current system is subject to improvement and I think we can arrive to a hybrid where students performance is still measured but not necessarily with a grade all the time… so for example, we can create a teaching pipeline that targets for all students to start the class with an A and finish the class with an A, and the in between evaluation process could be a mixture of perhaps grades for exams but no grades for other assignments… I might be completely wrong and grades could be banished, but perhaps step by step

  3. Anurag

    Exactly! Give me my A and then we can talk about reform in grading and assessments. I definitely think we are testing who does the best under pressure. I think we in engineering are too lazy and too comfortable with numbers and grades to even acknowledge that there may be alternatives. If we try, I am sure we can come up with ways to evaluate without the pressure of tests or grades. The qualifier and prelim in EWR is a great example of that. But who will take the time and put the effort for such rigorous evaluations, when you can feed the multiple choice OCR sheets and grade 40 exams in 10 mins.

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Anurag, thanks for your comment. I am assuming that you would have given me an A+ too, lol… I kind of agree with you, perhaps is the philosophy of “if it isn’t broken, then why fix it?” but the problem is that we think it is not broken? I don’t know, and yes perhaps we tend to be lazy… I was talking with Miguel Andrés over lunch today (https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/maguerra/) that as future professors we could actually have a way to work on changing some of the teaching approach by relying on the student’s help to make the changes… quick example to be clear: design an undergraduate project where a group of students are tasked to develop an app to be used next time the class is teach, or brainstorm ideas of how they could be assessed and create a structure for that… at my undergraduate university (UIS, Colombia) something in the lines of the first example was one alternative for a final graduation project

  4. Sneha Upadhyaya

    I like the way you present your ideas, love reading your posts every week! Your thoughts about “excessive” writing and “truncating” the learning process reminded me of a bitter experience that I have had in one of my high school classes. I was asked to solve a problem in one of my tests and I solved it using two different methods and got the same answer. Overall, I thought I did really well on that test. However, when I got the test back, I didn’t actually get a “really good” grade as I had expected, the sole reason being that the teacher took 50% off of the total points for the problem just because I solved it twice using different methods and that it was a waste of both his time and my time!

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Sneha, glad you like my style! Sorry that happened to you, it is really a shame, taking points off for actually going beyond what was required… one time something similar happened to me, just slightly “worst”… I solved the problem given with another method (easier or harder, who knows) because I had forgot the method given by the professor… result: 0 points, for not using his method…and the assignment never said that we had to use that specific method for full credit

  5. Jyotsana

    Thank you for your 1 hour 15 minute post Carlos. I have a sense of humor similar to your and I feel underlying frustration related to the assessment system that is prevalent today…yes, that is the reality. However as educators in training, I would love to know your ideas about how this system that is ingrained can be altered, patterns broken, imagination used…?!
    It is always good to have a space for expressing frustration and this being your post, is your space for it…but often my question after it is – so what’s next? How are we going to change this? What needs to be done?

    PS – You did know this post was an optional one, right?! 🙂

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Jyotsana, thank you for your questions back to me… yeah reflecting on my previous posts, I agree I am ending with more questions and complains than suggestions, so really thank for your questions back to me. Let’s start with the last one: yes, I knew it was optional, but I want to create this habit of weekly writing no matter what, and I might need a “skip” later on :).
      To answer your other questions: what is next? what needs to be done? etc… A class like Contemporary Pedagogy is a good environment to discuss about it, but the class time might not be enough to come out with ideas, so I think the first step is to take time ourselves to think about this, and not necessary alone but in teams, stay in touch, have lunch, bbq, etc to brainstorm… Once that first step is taken, then we could discuss the best way to setup a pilot program, with classes that we teach or with Eng Education or with classes taught by our adviser, because honestly I don’t see a complete change happening just because… Now in a way this answer so far is like dropping the ball to someone else, but no, I would actually like to create a group with anyone else interested to keep talking about this…first brainstorm idea: how about a hybrid system were students end up taking exams for a grade, but the way they get there is with assignments that are assessed without a grade, kind of like building the student’s confidence first, allowing them to have mistake, so that when the test comes, they have already gone to a process to feel confident on what they are doing (and sure, details would have to be worked out)… one being, will students actually do work that will not be graded? yes wanted to finish with another question… and yes I believe that some sort of grading might be still needed, maybe not years in the future, but for now I think better to have it, step by step

      • Jyotsana

        What fantastic insight Carlos. I think that classes like GEDI are really a platform for people to start talking bigger picture and also explore the possibilities of interdisciplinary work across disciplines. I think one of the barriers is that of investment from the administration and other hierarchical issues…but I do know that there are enough GEDI Knights that would join such a group in a heartbeat. I like your idea of hybrids and I think you’ve started thinking about how that works…it sounds to me like you’re right on track in thinking about things in a learner-centered way.

  6. “Individual blog posts are not graded, but will be considered holistically as evidence of your general commitment to the course and its content.”

  7. Hi Carlos, you have a very interesting post here. I also think of it as a mindful and creative one. The timestamp thing is exactly what I would like to try to keep track of time, the productivity, and the progress of work. For assessment, I feel that maybe we should not blame the teachers for all the defects in education. Both the students and the teachers need to be better prepared to contribute to the learning environment and to behave less like a robot according to the rules and assessments. If we as the teachers are taught and trained to be a better educator, then the students need to be taught, trained and counseled to be better learners.

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Julin, thanks… I agree with you, it is not the teachers or the students in particular, it is the system and how it has come to shape the teachers and the students.

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