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Higher Ed Faculty: Your Students Need To Know Their Grades and Get Feedback

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Can Your Students See all of Their Grades and the Feedback You've Provided (you did provide feedback, right)? Are You Sure?

If you are a teacher in higher education and you regularly provide feedback to your students when you grade their work, and you make sure they know what their grades are (on assignments and overall), then I say, “Thank You” on behalf of your students. Of course, you probably just see this as a part of your job, but I have encountered too many instructors who simply do not. I suppose many of them may not understand how this influences student success.

I provide my students a complete list of their grades on all their assignments several times throughout each term or semester (depending on which modality I am teaching – we have traditional 15 week semesters, 8 week hybrid terms, and 8 week online terms). It is time consuming to create these custom print outs, but it inevitably informs many students of things that they either did not realize, or just forgot. Not only does this encourage them to complete or turn in work they may have overlooked or thought they had turned in but didn't, it also gives them more time to do so (as opposed to rushing at the end of the term when they realize they are behind).

But how are they going to learn to be responsible?

I accept late work. Of course, some teachers like to argue that if students can't turn work in on time, they shouldn't be allowed to turn it in at all. “They need to learn to be responsible!” Hold on. Courses have Learning Outcomes, and that is what students are supposed to learn. They need to demonstrate those learning outcomes through assignments, projects, and quizzes or tests. Demonstrating their learning has little if anything to do with strict timelines. Letting them complete the assignment late is much better than not letting them complete it (they won't learn anything from not doing an assignment at all). Take some credit off if you want, but let them do it.

Of course, with tests or quizzes there may be other considerations, so they may present a different challenge (personally, the fewer the better, I'm not a big fan, but I realize they are essential in some types of courses).

I also realize that the larger the class, the more difficult it becomes to manage late assignment submissions. Of course, how profs see late work and manage it can vary based on LMS, configuration, practices, etc., so hopefully there is opportunity to make this more manageable (and sometimes you've also got a TA that can help).

Questionable Assumptions

One of the challenges I've come across when it comes to students knowing their grades is an assumption that if the grades are being posted in an LMS, then students can see them and know how to see them. I've found this to be potentially incorrect (at least in Moodle – the still popular LMS that we use at my institution). First of all, most student do not seem to even know how to try and access their grades. Then, if they do, there can be issues. For example, if a module is hidden they won't see grades (some profs hide modules after a few weeks have passed as a way of ‘cutting off' late assignment submissions). Additionally, I've seen some confusing subtotal calculations for more complex grade book configs, which can also be confusing and misleading.

The bottom line is – don't assume anything. Validate what your students can see by looking at it on screen with them.

The Syllabus and the Student

Some teachers also like to say things like, “it's all explained in the syllabus”, or “we covered it in the first class”, implying that it is the students responsibility to be aware of how grading works, late policies, etc. (of course, that is assuming you've indicated this in the syllabus in the first place). While that may be true, we all know that many college students just don't seem to really get the importance of the syllabus as a tool to help inform them and position them for success. They are also hit with a lot of information, in an unfamiliar setting, on “day one”. I believe that the best instructors will not only go over the syllabus on day one, but will also refer to it repeatedly as needed throughout the term to help students be more aware of how it can help them understand grading, etc.

So, yes, these are some pet peeves of mine. Two of my three kids are still and school and I see this happening to them sometimes and that really drives it home. It should be a simple right for all students to get feedback on submitted work, be clear on what their grades are, and know where they stand overall, throughout the course of any semester/term.

What are your practices? Am I being unrealistic here? I'd love to hear your feedback.

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