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MOOC'in: Learning Beyond Letter Grades

MOOC'in: Learning Beyond Letter Grades

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. 



Perhaps the first badge should be more than just logging into the system - perhaps it should require the participant to engage in some way - perhaps submit an introductory post, or tweet. Something a little more that just entering the system.

You ask an interesting question about timeliness and particpiant points. One thing to consider is that sometimes participation points are necessary motivators for online community building. It may not be a direct learning objective for the course, but if the course is designed with a student-student interaction component, then it is often necessary to motivate students to participate in a timely fashion - and unfortunately, participation points seem to be one of the more effective ways of doing this.





Thanks for posting about this MOOC.  I've been to the wall on my open biology course, and hadn't heard of this MOOC.

I've been using task based grades for nearly a year, and love it.  I use badges to help acknowledge achievements. 

I've never used a badge just to acknowlege enrolling, but I have a badge for when people start to respond to discussions (the Paws Up! Scribe Badge). 


I agree with Rebecca that the first badge should be when they first actively use the site.


Playing devil's advocate here -- isn't figuring out the technical system and receiving a badge for completing the task successfully a form of immediate feedback? I've had so many experiences with new tools where I can't figure out how to close the deal. I can't be the only person who is impatient with user interface experiences!

This badge actually gave me useful information, and it also taught me something about how the course integrated badges into their website, and confirmed for me that the organizers knew what they were doing. I'm surprising myself by saying this, but that badge actually generated some trust for me. It made me trust that the system designers thought through my experience and made it nearly seamless. It's the same with designing surveys. If it's too confusing, or the questions are double-barrelled, I jump. In MOOCs, which have such high attrition, that trust might make people more willing to come back.

The only thing I might do different is to explain that particular badge in more detail, and draw attention to why it is being awarded. Bernard talks about the curious habit of awarding grades for participation, so I might refer to that: "This is a participation badge, designed to show you how the sociotechnical platform works. You'll learn how a badge is issued, where it will display, and how to log-in to this site so we can award future badges. You might be curious about how badges work, and we wanted to get you started with this experience before jumping into other kinds of badges." 

Then open up the next badge to the kinds of experiences you mention -- like commenting or posting a blog. 



Sheryl, I can agree that when your asked to use a new tool or app, it helps to have an acknowledgement.

In my situation, I think most people can log onto the site.  I want to know if they have also looked around a bit and started to learn more about the site.  The first assignment I have is just to tell the group why you are in a particular class.  That is when the first badge is issued.  It shows me that you have followed the trail of bread crumbs I've laid to get you into the community.

For me, completion of the survey on the Learning Beyond Letter Grades site would have been a perfect trigger.