Why do so many schools use letter grades? Where did they come from? What do they tell us and fail to tell us about the learners? What is the relationship between letter grades, student learning, and assessment?
Those are a few of the questions Bernard Bull and others will be exploring in a 6-week MOOC on Learning Beyond Letter Grades that kicks off this week. With a syllabus that focuses on the benefits and limits of different kinds of assessment, it's no surprise that the course includes a badge system. With all the research and work I've done around badges, I haven't been a learner in a badged course, so I'm looking forward to the experience and chatting with others about it. The course organizers will be hosting live sessions each Tuesday at 6pm ET, and next week, they'll be talking about how they set up the badge system for the course. Badging a MOOC is something I've been talking to Cathy Davidson about for the past several few months, so it'll be great to hear how others approached the task and their thinking behind the choices they made.
One of the first badges a learner can earn is for "Began the Learning Journey." I've been on the fence about earning badges for doing simple tasks like logging in, which this badge is for. One of the observations starting to emerge from the Badges for Lifelong Learning projects is that learners want the badges to mean something. They want them to be relevant, and to count. Earning a participation badge is counter-intuitive to that, and can make badges seem too easy, and therefore irrelevant.
But speaking as someone who gives up easily when trying new tools, not to mention a lifelong aversion to instructions, this badge is actually a meaningful achievement. When the user experience isn't seamless, I jump. Earning a badge for successfully logging in may be one of those functional badges telling the instructor that a student has engaged the technical system. I've washed out of a few MOOCs simply because I had to work too hard to find stuff. So these "participation" badges do have a purpose -- if nothing else, the credential makes access possible, like swiping your ID to gain entry to a building.
I'm working on the criteria for the next badge now, which is about the "Affordances and Limitations of Letter Grades." Part of that module includes thinking about the following questions:
- How many syllabi note that student grades will be decreased if an assignment is submitted late?
- What does the timeliness of a learner’s performance have to do with student mastery of course objectives or goals, unless the true purpose of the course is indeed to teach timeliness?
- How many syllabi make reference to grades associated with student attendance or participation?
- How many syllabi note that certain formative assessments (perhaps incremental quizzes or other checks for understanding along the way) make up a certain percentage of the overall course grade?
Good questions! I hope to see other #dmlbadges and #openbadges people in Twitter (#learningbeyondgrades) and the Google community for the course.