To de-emphasize grading in a non-traditional assessment system the instructor should provide a succinct picture

This post is a reworking (aka friendly amendment) of the learning contract (aka grading system) for Dave Cormier’s ED366 Educational Technology and the Adult Learner ( (drawing on my standard practice–example).
The following features in this reworking should be noted:

  1. The requirements are divided into 2 categories–Written assignments and presentations, which are commented on and then the student revises in response, and Participation and contribution to the class process, which are fulfilled without instructor comments.
  2. Grades and points, as well as students explaining absences and lateness, are pushed to the background. This is achieved by giving an automatic B+ for 80% completion of each category. Only if the automatic B+ is not reached, do points get tallied.
  3. During the semester, students keep track of their own work (and revisions) and can tell whether they are keeping up simply by noting whether they are getting 80% of assignments and participation items done by the due dates.
  4. Due dates are needed for many of Cormier’s assignments and participation items and (imho) these should be spaced so that things are not crammed at the end.
  5. Students can take in the overall assessment and requirement picture by reviewing the summary below. Notes in a separate linked section (indicated here by underlining) would provide details about each assignment (and possibly examples of submissions from previous students [with their permission]).
  6. Within this assessment and requirement picture–and with the attention off grades–the instructor and students can dialogue around written work and during office-hour meetings in a way that addresses each student’s dispositions, aspirations, baggage, and so on. (Comparison with the ideals of “independence” or self-directedness are not helpful for the students; “contracts” and “enforced” behavior are not [imho] sympatico with the desired teaching/learning interactions.)
  7. I appreciate from his #rhizo14 videos, blog entries, live sessions, and the course contract that Dave likes to be chatty. Again imho, to de-emphasize grading while using a non-traditional system means the instructor should provide a succinct picture. Confusion–or resistance to change labeled by student as confusion–tends to perpetuate a passive (aka instructor is setting the rules) disposition in some or many students.

Assessment and Requirements

  • For the different assignments and participation items take into account the guidelines supplied in the Notes on Assignments as well as the general expectations conveyed in the rubric below.
  • The central part of the course involves weekly blog posts and other written assignments and presentations. Participation requirements included active participation during class based on preparation between classes, meeting with the instructor on your assignments and projects, etc. It is expected that you will spend at least 9 hours per session reading, researching, and writing.
  • Drafts of the assignments are commented on, but not graded. You are expected to read comments carefully, consult with instructor if you don’t understand a comment, revise thoughtfully in response to the comments, and resubmit. Not grading keeps the focus on interaction around written work and presentations that emerge from participation in the unfolding dynamics of the course.
  • You should aim for 16 of 20 writing/presentation assignments submitted by the due dates as well as 25 of 32 participation items fulfilled. (Allowing a fraction of assignments to be skipped without penalty or explanation accommodates the contingencies of your lives.) If this 16 & 25 level is reached—and the goal is to work with everyone to achieve that—you get at least a B+ and a rubric is used to determine B+, A- or A. If you don’t get to that level, the grade is based on points given for what has been completed (as described below).
  • The course works by building from one session to the next so late submissions detract significantly from the learning process for the student in question and from the learning possibilities for the other students. Each student can ask for extensions–no explanation needed–on two assignments or participation items, moving the due date as far back as the last session. Beyond the 2 extensions, submissions more than a week late don’t count; instead, focus on doing the best you can with the remaining assignments and participation items.
  • Use a personal copy of the checklist to keep a log of assignments and participation items completed. You keep track of due dates–do not expect class-time or meetings with the instructor to be taken up reminding you. Similarly, if you get behind, you take the initiative to submit a plan to catch up or reassure the instructors that you have, in light of your other commitments, chosen to take the grading consequences of missing assignments or due dates.

Written assignments and presentations (2/3 of grade)

A. Weekly Blog Assignment, 300-500 words, due 11.59pm Sundays (=12 assignments)
B. Participatory Peer Presentation and Write-up, due xx (=2 double-weight assignments)
C. Learning Network Plan, due xx (draft & final =2 double-weight assignments)

Participation and contribution to the class process (1/3 of grade)

a. Building learning community through attendance and participation at class meetings based on reading and preparation between meetings (=13 items).
b. Contributions to Group Learning Document, due xx (1-6+ edits = 1-6 items)
c. Public Contribution to Knowledge (Simple & Complex) (aka Open Educational Resource), due xx (= 1 double-weight item)
d. Public Discussion Sessions, due xx (=6 items)
e. Article Discussion, due xx (=1 item)
f. Twitter Chat, due xx (1 item)
g. Minimum of two in-office or phone conferences on your assignments and journal/workbook — one by session 5; the other by session 10 (=2 items)
h. Submission in last session of filled-in copy of assignment checklist, including planned dates for any further submissions or completion contract if needed, and student’s self-assessment on rubric below (1 item)

Overall course grade
If 16 of 20 writing and presentation assignments are submitted by the due dates as well as 25 participation items fulfilled, you get at least a B+ and the rubric below is used at the end of the course to add points to 80 for final grade. If you do not reach the level of the automatic B+ or above, then for each assignment submitted and presentation made 3.33 points are given (minus 1 point for each week or part thereof late), and 1 point for each participation item, up to a maximum of 80.
Minimum points for letter grade: A 95, A- 87.5, B+ 80, B 72.5, B- 65, C+ 57.5, C 50. (adjustable to match the conventions of instructor’s institution)

Rubric: For each quality “fulfilled very well” you get 2 additional points. If you “did an OK job, but there was room for more development/attention,” you get 1 point. If this was “not notable in my work for this course,” you get 0 points.
1. A sequence of written assignments and presentations clear and well structured, with supporting references and detail,
2. paced more or less as in syllabus (including timely revisions),
3. often revised thoroughly and with new thinking in response to comments.
4. Assignments, presentations, and participation items carried out with considerable initiative,
indicating that I can extend tools and processes from the course to my specific situation, especially in the sense of
5. making educationally justified and sustainable choices of when and how to integrate technologies, i.e., developing guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies can be of significant educational benefit,
6. planning to learn through ongoing personal and professional development and interactions how to use the technologies I decide to adopt or adapt, and
7. developing Learning Communities in which we help each other to learn about learning and think about change.
Active, prepared participation and building class as learning community, including
8. prepared participation in class activities,
9. comments and engagement in outside-class discussion on each other’s blogs, and
10. contribution to the Group Learning Document.

[* Possible additions to Cormier’s course goals: Understand and Respond to the Push for Teachers to Use Educational Technology; Examine the Wider Social Changes Surrounding Computer Use Technology. These goals drawn from a 2001 document on educational technology education, which also informed the wording of the rubric above.]


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

3 Responses to To de-emphasize grading in a non-traditional assessment system the instructor should provide a succinct picture

  1. Maha says:

    Peter, thanks for sharing this. I assume (but am not sure) that this is a negotiable contract with your students? Will they negotiate in class, online, or both? I often revise in negotiation during the semester which sounds disastrous but seems to work well for the students.

  2. Pingback: What’s so special about @davecormier’s (or “our”) #rhizo14? | Reflecting Allowed

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: