In LDRS 1016 this semester, I am currently finding myself in one of those teaching quandaries we often find ourselves in.  In the spirit of open vulnerability, and as a bit of a practical, realistic, and (for LDRSers) relevant “case study” I am going to unpack it here.

— The Big Bad Blog Grade Dilemma —

This semester in LDRS 1016, we blogged.  The “requirement” was to post once a week on a personal blog with a prompt of “something interesting to you that seems relevant to the course and your peers in it” and to make two comments/week. We talked about that blogs and comments should be “substantive, meaningful, honest, and relevant” in order to receive all/nothing credit.  Credit was tracked by a simple quiz framework in Scholar where each student assessed her/his own participation that week.

Rationale in Jake’s head: I don’t want people worried about guessing what is in my head and what I want from the blog.  What I want is simple… individualized reflection about LDRS and collective engagement.  I want everyone to draw together seemingly distinct experiences on campus, with readings, after watching movies, etc. and begin to re-cast and re-understand “leadership” in a broader, deeper, more personal, more applied way.  Hey… I know!  I’ll have them grade themselves!  Then, students will be free from “worry” about the grade and will just focus their energies on meaningful blogging that makes sense to them… it’ll be great!  And, the blog “quizzes” will create a simple accountability structure so that everyone is keeping themselves apprised of week-by-week participation.

Real-life story: As we all know, sometimes things work out better in the head than the real world.  All in all, blogging has been pretty interesting and engaging.  The “grading” however… and how easy it all was in my head… has been a mess.  Culpability probably doesn’t matter.  In some cases, Scholar [$!@&# learning management systems!!!] likely failed.  In many cases students simply forgot to do the quiz.  In some ways the setup was flawed from the beginning with my idea of how it would work.

On average, 80% of students completed the assessment.  I haven’t crunched the numbers yet, but based on emails throughout the semester, most of those who didn’t complete it actually blogged that week.  They just forgot to do the self-assessment.  Now, here at the end of the semester, a number of students have lower blogging scores than if I had actually graded them myself.

LDRS 1016 Timeout: Remember that whole talk about “clarify the message” and “authenticity” – aligning actions with espoused values as an important quality of leadership in responding to challenges we face?  Let’s keep that in mind…

Some options and the “messages” they carry:

(1) Nothing.  You knew the requirements, you had a time-frame for the quizzes, you very easily could have tracked progress, navigated issues with Scholar (or alerted me to issues as they came rather than at the end), and succeeded.  BTW, many students in the class did this just fine, why couldn’t you? 

This action values a rigid sense of responsibility.  It is justified by the belief that students learn that they need to read, follow instructions, and proactively navigate challenges well before the panic-at-the-end deadline.  Remember, you earn grades and are not given them.

(2) Forget the quiz for those who had issues/zeroes and either re-grade them manually as the instructor or just re-open the quiz for everyone so that corrections can be made.  Beyond self-assessment as an important step, I didn’t intend for quizzes to be a primary focus… the blogs were the point.  So, if you did them but forgot the quiz, then I should focus on what I said really mattered and not worry about the logistical hiccups.  Not to mention, Scholar has really shot us in the foot this semester, and that is as much my fault as yours.

This action values reflection and engagement first and foremost.  It recognizes that there is some mis-alignment between the assessment and the goal – that is, a 0 on the “quiz” is indicative of not doing the “quiz” rather than not meaningfully reflecting and engaging on the blog.  So, a course-correct by me helps to say “remember… this is what is important here” at the tradeoff of reinforcing that “loafing/procrastination” will be accommodated in the end.  Also, this option might be said to somewhat overlook that many students do what they are supposed to do and that accommodations now could demean or devalue others.

In thinking through these first two options, I also have to own my own role as teacher in all of this.  Though blog quiz grades are posted immediately after they are taken, “grades” in general have been delayed longer than anticipated… students are not really encouraged to track their progress through class via “the gradebook.”   Also, in retrospect, the setup itself was probably not the best.  Though students might have been freed to chase what was in their head rather than guessing what would be in mind, everyone has fretted so much about the quizzes and the grade that the entire point of all of this has been somewhat obscured. It is these two things that lead me to deviate from what might otherwise be a fully justified choice (1).  Though I do very much value everyone taking ownership of their own education and fiercely, proactively, diving into a course, the blog quiz is not a simple indicator of “are you doing what you are supposed to or not” and missing quizzes doesn’t necessarily indicate irresponsibility.  It has been muddied by technological issues, and some general inflexibility that comes with online quizzes.

However, I don’t fully like (2) either because I don’t want to devalue those that took the initiative to make sure they both blogged AND self-assessed as they were supposed to.   AND, while I value the reflection on the blog, I also did value the simple self-assessment because it weekly offered the opportunity (required) an answer to “how engaged am I in the course?”  So, really, the ship has sailed to a certain degree.  Self assessment in weeks 3 and 4 that could have lead to deeper engagement in weeks 5, 6, … was missed.  So, there really can be no make-up, can there?

It is with this dilemma that I enter the dangerous territory of make-up/extra-credit.  I say dangerous because I think that even well-intentioned, it can often be the worst of both options.  BUT, my hope is that the solution I am implementing might be able to avoid that… we shall see.

For good or for bad… Jake’s decision:

I really value your authentic, self-driven reflection.  That was one of the primary goals of the blog and of the “quiz.”  Simple as it was, you missed out on some of the opportunities presented by the quiz.  I don’t want that to kill your grade – because your grade should reflect overall knowledge of and engagement with “Exploring Citizen Leadership”… not simply remembering to log onto Scholar and take a weekly quiz.  But, I’m not going to just give it away, because you miss out on the opportunity and that devalues those who successfully navigated all aspects of the assignment.  So, if narrowed down, there were truly 2 primary functions of the “quiz” – (1) to self-assess blog participation, ultimately resulting in a grade for the gradebook and (2) as a very simple meta-cognitive tool to stop and think about individual participation in one facet of the course.

So – as a solution that requires students to still meet goals (1) and (2)…

If you are content with the blog grades showing up in the gradebook: congrats!  hopefully they offer a realistic look at (1) and were a week-by-week accomplishment of (2)

If you are unhappy with the blog grades showing up in the gradebook and feel they do not accurately represent (1) because of Scholar issues, your forgetfulness/procrastination, and/or poor planning by Jake:

  • Share a self-assessment (via writing, video, or…) of your engagement with “learning” (whatever that means to you) at this phase of your life.  In what areas are you most engaged, and why do you think that is?  In what areas are you most disengaged, and why might that be?  The scope for this could be as narrow or wide as you want.  It could involve this course, other courses, other interpretations of the word “course,” or no courses at all.  The intent here is to accomplish goal (2) as a general strategy since it was missed week-by-week with the blogs of this course as the context.  This self-assessment needs to be emailed to Jake at the very least, but you could easily consider sharing it via your blog.
  • When you send an email to me, with an attachment or link to your blog with this assessment, also tell me which quizzes to re-open.  I will then re-open those on Scholar for you to re-take.  That will then allow for ensuring that your blog “grades” on Scholar are an accurate representation of (1) and not just whether or not you took the quiz.

I hope that this solution sends the messages I am hoping to send by this action.  I think we (as teachers, leaders, humans) often send mixed messages that are very different from what we intend.  While there is no sure-fire analysis that leads to flawless decision-making, my intent here is to demonstrate that some thorough and transparent reflection can sometimes lead to clarity.  At the very least, it opens up the floor for conversation that could shape the future… be it about leadership, teaching, decision-making, blogging, self-asssessment, or…

As a learner, teacher, person who ever seeks to reflect and improve, I invite your feedback on this decision regardless of who you are and whether you are currently a student in LDRS 1016 with me or not.  Thanks!