There is a high level of pressure on students to get things "right" the first time. Our RED PEN
feedback system helps drive this home. If a student misses a question, points are lost and final course grades are affected. GPA drops and that homework problem or test problem just influenced the rest of my life. (OK, that's a bit extreme, but its the logical end to the thought).The Root of the Problem
We have a need in education to determine how a student is doing. Students need feedback so that they may improve upon problem areas. Educators need to see how their students are doing so that they may assess the effectiveness of their teaching.
There is a long list of other reasons typically thrown up in the case for
grades, but I think they are rubbish. One of the big ones is that "if we don't grade it, students won't do it." Yes, let's hold our students hostage with threats against their future success rather than providing true motivation.
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams
W. B. Yeats
I think we may have started, long ago, with these two goals in mind. However, our "factory model" education system has polluted those goals, mainly due to the fact that we are trying to educate so many people
. Call the EPA (Educational Protection Agency)!
With a large class, the task of providing feedback is not trivial. Graders must streamline the process by providing the least
amount of feedback possible. They look over the work, think about what the student did, and try to scribble something down to let them know where mistakes were made. If only the student could hear the grader's thoughts! (In light of what I'm about to say, I think they call this foreshadowing)
Very rarely is any positive feedback given
. For the most part, graders write down just enough to justify the score on the assignment. I don't fault them for this, they simply don't have the time to give meaningful, content-rich responses to each student's work.
The problem is that, from the students' perspective, this type of feedback is more a slap in the face than constructive criticism. Rather than a teachable moment, we offer up judgement and discouragement.
I have not failed. I've just found 1000 ways that won't work.
Let's change the message.Learner-Centered Feedback(Stop Grading and Start Reviewing)
With tablets and pen inputs for computers we have the ability to record ourselves as we mark up a document. Imagine marking up a student's electronic homework submission. The grader no longer needs to write
a detailed response to help the student learn from issues. The grader can record his/her thoughts in audio format while marking up the work.
Rather than grade
the work we can review
the work and provide meaningful feedback (audio) to the learner. I think if we did this right, it would actually save
time for grader. Most people can speak much faster than they can write or type.
We could add "content area" tags to individual homework problems. Over time, the student's aggregated results would point out sticking points in a particular course and focus the student's study/improvement efforts. If a visual representation of this were available to the grader small bits of encouragement could emerge: "I see that the First Law is starting to click for you, good job!
"I can see clearly now....
Synced with the interactive Degree Path Sheet
, a student would have a much better view of where they are. With our current approach most students can't see what's going on. All they see are a few "red x's" that leave them feeling less intelligent, or that "I just don't understand Thermodynamics.
" Truth is that's usually not the case. Maybe the real issue is a small part of it that creeps up in most problems.OK, enough words...
Let me show you an example of what I am picturing, from an engineers perspective (sorry, I haven't graded anything else!):
If you kept track, I spent about 2 minutes providing feedback on this problem. In a class of 60 students, with an average of 10 homework problems per assignment, this translates to 20 hours of grading work. Interestingly enough, that's the exact amount of time
that my grader logs while providing RED PEN
feedback right now.A few things to work out:
First, I'm laughing at myself for using a RED PEN
while making this video. I imagine a better system in which I can use "cursor points" or a "focus bubble" to show what I'm looking at.
Second, the "tags" idea isn't a worksheet, but I'm not Java programmer. The check-mark image was supposed to represent clicking on tags.
Third, I DO use a red pen while grading currently. This idea is new for me this week, and I hope to implement a refined version of this system next time I teach a course.
Fourth, I DO collect the homework for a grade. I'll explain...Some other things you might have seen:
Did you notice that the numerical answers were provided with the problem statement? This is a trick I use to maximize the self-learning for my students. With the answers to homework problems available, students know whether they've got it or not long before they turn it in. Assuming they start the work early enough, they can find the help they need before turning in the assignment.
Did you notice that I showed two submissions
from the same student? I actually do this as well. In my course I try very hard to encourage my students to make mistakes and learn from them. This learning business is messy and most of what sticks in our minds comes from getting things wrong at first.
I allow my students to re-submit the work as many times as it takes, and they can earn full credit on every problem even if they don't get it until the last day of the semester. Effort and engagement is encouraged and rewarded. Based on their feedback, this is working as I hoped it would!Closing: The Message
Once again, the "Medium is the Message." I hope that by taking advantage of the digital media tools available to us, we can shift the message that we send learners. Let's send the message that experimenting is a good thing
. Let's send the message that mistakes are a good thing
. Let's send the message that our students deserve more than some messy red pen graffiti all over their work.
At the risk of starting a riot:
STUDENTS: Like what you see? Are you tired of getting RED PEN
all over your work? Demand more from your teachers!
Try turning your homework in written completely in RED PEN