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Choose Your Own Grading Schema: An Online Learning Experiment

Choose Your Own Grading Schema: An Online Learning Experiment


Olivia Wood, Graduate Teaching Fellow, English, John Jay College of Criminal Justice


Last semester, after teaching mostly asynchronously with no penalties or cutoffs for late work, the responses I received in students’ end-of-semester reflections were mixed. About half said they were incredibly grateful for the flexibility my class structure offered. The other half said they wished I’d required attendance at the optional Zoom sessions and held them to their deadlines under pain of grade penalty. They recognized that while ideally they would be self-motivated to participate as much as possible, external pressure would have been helpful.

In this presentation, I will share how I revised my syllabus for Spring 2021 to account for both strands of feedback, and how students have responded. At the beginning of the semester, students chose via Google Form which grading plan they wanted: Structure and Accountability, or Maximum Flexibility. Students on the Structure and Accountability plan are required to attend the weekly Zoom sessions and complete all assignments on the syllabus. Students on the Maximum Flexibility plan are not required to attend Zooms and are only required to complete select assignments marked in bold on the syllabus– unit projects, unit reflections, and a few other smaller tasks– but are still welcome and encouraged to attend class and complete other activities. After each unit, students are given the opportunity to switch grading plans if they wish, after reading an overview of the exact assignment and points breakdown for each plan on the coming unit.

Students have responded very positively to this method, and about one third have chosen the Structure and Accountability plan each unit so far, and additional students on the flexibility plan are also choosing to attend the synchronous classes and participate in ungraded activities.

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