Thursday, December 31, 2009

To Grade or Not to Grade?

After some time of using TurningPoint, or clickers in general, one may want to consider providing students with grades. But what is an effective way of grading students using clickers? How will the teacher / professor benefit the most from this? And more importantly, how can students benefit the most from this? Three questions for which answers will have a large impact on student learning.

When considering using grading schemes for TurningPoint, the obvious first step is to be sure you have participant lists for your sessions. It would not make much sense to grade students when you don't know which one has what clicker. However, once we have the participant list, then several issues must be thought through.

Before considering the three questions already posed, let us consider the main question that really matters. What reason is there to grade students using clickers? By using TurningPoint, both students and teachers alike will have real-time assessment of student understanding. However, without grading, there may not be any real incentive for a student to answer truthfully if s/he does not see a reason to. Therefore, by using a grading scheme, there may potentially be a greater incentive for students to answer questions more truthfully.

A drawback may also occur, though. Depending on how clicker use is graded (sometimes referred to as high-stakes and low-stakes), the student may instead have more incentive on answering correctly as opposed to answering what s/he has an understanding of being correct. It has been shown that this results more frequently when students discuss amongst themselves the answers before voting during high-stakes grading schemes. In situations such as these, students will be influenced by peers if they believe the peer has a correct answer without knowing the reason(s) why (students will vote together as opposed to on their own). An analogy to this would be students being influenced by their peers when raising their hands in class in response to a polling question. This will hinder both the professor's and students' perception of student understanding of the material.

As a result, in my opinion, the primary reason to grade the use of clickers is to elicit a more truthful response from students during polling. However, grading should not be enforced to the point where students worry more about being correct in their response than what they learn. Some instructors using grading schemes with clickers provide a base score for answering, and a few extra points for answering correctly (such as 1 point, and 3 points for a correct response). I think 4 points would be a good base, with 5 points for a correct response, weighted for how the clicker grade factors into their overall grade. This will influence students to answer truthfully, but still provide an extra kick for getting it right.

Perhaps the clicker grade collectively could go towards extra credit on various exams and/or projects. Students will then feel encouraged to earn more points, but won't feel pressured into needing a correct response. If using the 4/5 point scheme I just described, the 4 points could maybe go towards participation grading, and the fifth point could be added up in some way for the extra credit.

Just as an example.

There does not seem to be any 'single best' way for grading schemes. However, there are obviously better ways than others. It would appear that keeping low-stakes grading (partial participation credit, with possible extra points for correct responses) works better for students than high-stakes grading ('all-or-nothing' grading).

Students are able to benefit from this because they can receive more points to be added to their grade, without having to stress too much about earning more points. A teacher / professor will benefit since student responses will potentially become more truthful. Both students and professors will then be able to perceive better the class' understanding of the material. Thus, more personalized and accurate discussions and instructions may take place, providing a better learning experience for all stakeholders.

The last step, to make sure you keep track of the grades, is to run and save a report so that the session data isn't lost.

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