There have been many critiques on the grade-based evaluations among the resources of this week. Alfie Kohn summarizes some negative side effects, and introduces few alternatives– such as replacing letter and number grades with narrative assessments or qualitative summaries of student progress offered in writing or as part of a conversation. Although these scenarios seems like “utopian fantasy” at first glance, I will be explaining a case study which proved to me it is possible to get the most out of students’ potentials without threatening them by grades!
I had a graduate level course last year, with around sixty other graduate fellows from several departments at Virginia Tech including statistics, civil engineering, industrial engineering, physics and computer science. Apparently, this was extremely challenging for the instructor to evaluate the students with these broad background in a fair manner. What he did, was to define quite easy homework assignments to involve everyone in the class and guarantee a big chunk of total grade. The final project, though, was open-end and huge. In groups of five, we were required to have many meetings to brainstorm, design algorithms, code and analyze our results. The professor created groups of people from different majors, and organized many “lighthouse sessions” to answer our questions at high level. More interestingly, he collaborated with a sponsor company which provided free food (!) during a lighthouse session, and also considered monetary gifts for the top three groups. Last but not least, the professor invited Virginia Tech faculties and the experts form the sponsor company during the lighthouse sessions to answer our questions. After a while, what happened was that students were not just working on the project to get a good grade. We were competing to do our bests, as we observed how well the professor did to provide everything for us during the semester. We were all so excited and determined. I remember that the last week we barely slept, and worked extremely hard. Our group was not among the top three, but we all were happy at the end because we truly did our bests during a productive friendly teamwork.
In a nutshell, I highlight the role of teachers in deleting or diluting the grade-based system and replace it with more effective alternatives.