Blog Post

Mozilla Drumbeat: Thoughts on Grading and the Classroom


"They're still talking about it in terms of getting a job!" That is a direct quote I heard at the Mozilla Drumbeat festival in reaction to the discussions that were happening everywhere on grading and badges.  I am debating if that is a good thing or a bad thing.  Right now Im leaning towards regardless of good or bad, it is kind of necessary.
The HASTAC Storming the Academy session on Storming the Grade Book was no exception.  However, there was a bit of a culture clash: The Europeans dont do Standardized testing.  It was fun showing them scantron images from a google image search.  "How do you know why they chose the answer?" "You dont" ... O_o...
I think we came to the conclusion that some type of assessment is necessary for most jobs in order for advancement or even buy in from people who might be interested in working with you.  The example that was given is pilots.  No one wants to fly with a pilot with no flight hours.
Back to an apprenticeship model or a combination of apprenticeship/classroom learning.  Personally I prefer the latter.  While on the job learning is great and it is what you need to be successful, I still think the classroom experience has value in terms of showing people things they dont know, and different ways to approach and interpret various forms of information and interaction with said information (from conversations with other people to highly theoretical readings).  I think classrooms should also be a safe place where students feel it is okay to try and possibly fail at doing things, as long as they reflect on what went wrong to cause them to fail and can show how the learning experience from their failure is in line with the purpose of whatever the course may be.  Failing is something you usually dont have the option of doing on the job.
And here is the problem with the grades for me.  I know in my life I have learned more from my failures than I have from my success, and I also know I would have never had most of my success without some failures along the way.  When we focus on an A-F system, we dont allow room for learning failure.  But I think that might be a side conversation, so let me go back to what my thoughts are following listening to all the drumbeat conversations.  This is also based on my experience with Future Class, the group of students who went to Drumbeat with HASTAC.
I feel like the ideal for the teachers role is for it to be a role of facilitation. The classroom should be  as a space of co-production, play, tinkering, and testing (as in trying things out and exploring, not paper and pencil and time limits), and discussion.   I am in love with the idea of project based learning.  I know that I am a project based person though so I come to almost every classroom situation I enter with at least 5 projects.  I know most people dont.  I think it is unreasonable to expect them to.  So, part of teacher facilitation is having projects in a project grab bag to present to students.  The other part is providing framework to approach the project and problematics of the project in either the form of theoretical work or organized discussions, though preferably a combination of the two.
Im not sure yet what the assessment for this will look like, but I do think it will be infinitely more valuable to students that standardized tests, or testing everyone on the same thing.  I dont like the idea that everyone should be getting the exact same thing out of a classroom.  If someone can explain their position, show their learning, and place it within the purpose of the class, Im all for it.  So how do we asses this in a way that can be presented to an outside audience? and How do we make assessment more meaningful for the assessed?
The badge system was interesting, but I think it sounds a bit too complex and overwhelming, even if there is a central repository and body for governing badges.  I think that all these discussions made me lean toward liking the idea of interactive portfolios where people can highlight their actual work, place it, have feedback from outside etc is much more appealing.

I am still thinking about all this stuff, so forgive me if it is confusing at times.  If it is, I think that represents how I felt about much of the conversations around this topic at Drumbeat.  No one knows yet what the solution will look like or how it will be credentialed, but we all see it as necessary, at least in the context of trying to earn a living.  No one is quite ready to jump off the ship named capitalism.



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