Saturday, September 21, 2013

"With Me It's All ... Er Nuthin!": Completion Grading in e-Learning

Let me tell you a story.
Michael was a low-performing student in the first class I ever taught fully online.  I was good friends with the Campus Facilitator for the school that he attended, and we talked on the phone nearly every week about the progress of "our" kids.  One day he said "Michael is sure frustrated, but I can tell you that it's good-frustrated."  Michael had done only a half-hearted effort on the first project of the class and I'd sent it back for a re-submit.  Then he'd resubmitted it with only 2 of the 3 feedback points done, so I'd given it back to him with a 0/40, again, and asked him to resubmit.  He'd finally earned his 40 points and my praise, only to go on to the next assignment and repeat the process!

"Is he too frustrated?  Do I need to ease up on him?"

My friend responded, "No, I don't think so.  He complains loudly in the computer lab about how hard you are to please, but these might be the first projects in his life where he's been made to get it right.  Usually he just finds the lowest level of work needed to pass the class and stays there."

"Right--he's one who lives in the ZMA.  The Zone of Minimal Achievement."

We maintained course, and Michael . . . well, let me tell you more about Michael in just a bit.

To make the completion grading work for me, I conclude every online assignment with a project checklist like this one:

____  Create a Fakebook page for a non-lead character in the Shakespeare play you're working on.
____  Include a profile pic of someone you would cast for the role based on his/her appearance.
____  Include bits of profile information such as hobbies, relationships, favorite quotes, favorite Bible verses, shared Pinterest boards, etc.  Blend fact and fiction.
____  Embed this FB page onto a page in your Portfolio and submit the URL into the Turn In area; also submit this Project Checklist, with every completed element marked __x__. 

Some of my kids go all-out, making a beautiful specimen for their Portfolio.  Other kids do the bare minimum.  Both sets of kids get the points if they meet the criteria, and I let the reward of positive Peer Reviews be the driving factor to promote excellence.  If a student does not fulfill the project checklist, that gives me an opportunity for feedback, and the feedback-loop is the best part of online teaching.  I give SO much better feedback to my online students than I was ever able to give to the students who cycled through my classroom back in the brick and mortar days.  

When you transition from a F2F classroom into the domain of online education, the paradigm of grading each assignment with a percent or letter grade comes with you like an invasive-water-species sticking to the bottom of your boat.  You didn't try to bring the grades-paradigm in with you, but in it came.  Grades reflect and shape so much of our modern educational theory/practice, but with e-Learning we need to leverage the strength of the LMS--by establishing completion grading with a good feedback loop for resubmissions.

Will singing to Annie in OKLAHOMA.
My student, Michael, needed to hear me sing (metaphorically) "With me, it's all er nuthin'!"  It was with pleasure that my friend and I watched him leave his ZMA and level up to the point where he was, by the end, turning in projects that fully met the criteria. Completion grading didn't get him an "A" in the class, but it wasn't because he was earning anything less than full points for each assignment.  Rather it was because he earned full points on only 70% of the required projects, and he got to only that number of projects due to the constraints of time and his slow start at the beginning of the term.  He felt successful, and I wasn't ever faced with "is this project good enough for a B?" or such questions.  If the the project met the checklist, he got the points and a "feedback high-five."  If it didn't meet the checklist, we began a resubmission feedback loop until it was up to par.

Is completion grading something you can implement into your classroom?  It's a real question--comment below if you have a moment to articulate your thoughts.

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