Student Perceptions of an Online Ungraded Course
What do grades mean? What purpose do they serve? What role do they play in the learning process? Teachers and scholars have recently begun to re-examine these questions central to our current grading system. As a result, many have started to re-assess how grades are assigned in their classes. In this case study, I examine the effectiveness of ungrading, an approach centered around students assigning their own grades through reflecting on the learning process. After contextualizing and describing the approach developed for this fully online, asynchronous history class, I share quantitative and qualitative data regarding student perceptions, motivation, and information usage to argue that systems such as ungrading have potential for contributing to the construction of highly effective and meaningful learning environments.
Bloom, Benjamin S. 1968. “Learning for Mastery.” Evaluation Comment 1, no. 2.
Bonem, Emily M., Heather N. Fedesco, and Angelika N. Zissimopoulos. 2020. “What You Do Is Less Important than How You Do It: The Effects of Learning Environment on Student Outcomes.” Learning Environment Research 23: 27–44. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10984-019-09289-8.
Boyer, Ernest L. 1990. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. New York: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Brookhart, Susan M., and Thomas R. Guskey. 2019. “Reliability in Grading and Grading Scales.” In What We Know about Grading: What Works, What Doesn’t and What’s Next, edited by Thomas R. Guskey and Susan M. Brookhart, 13–31. Alexandria, VA: Ascd.
Bruce, Christine S. 2008. Informed Learning. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.
CAST. 2018. “Universal Design for Learning Guidelines Version 2.2.” Accessed November 10, 2020. http://udlguidelines.cast.org.
Centra, John. A., and F. Reid Creech. 1976. “The Relationship between Student, Teacher, and Course Characteristics and Student Ratings of Teacher Effectiveness.” ETS Program Report, 76-1. Princeton: Educational Testing Service.
Chick, Nancy, Lorelli Nowell, and Bartlomiej A. Lenart. 2019. “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A Scoping Review Protocol.” Teaching & Learning Inquiry 7, no. 2: 186–97. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.7.2.12.
Cook-Sather, Alison, Melanie Bahti, and Anita Ntem. 2019. Pedagogical Partnerships: A How-To Guide for Faculty, Students, and Academic Developers in Higher Education. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning. https://doi.org/10.36284/celelon.oa1.
Cook-Sather, Alison, Catherine Bovill, and Peter Felten. 2014. Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Divala, Joseph J. 2017. “Interrogating the Civic Role of South African Universities.” In Knowledge and Change in African Universities, edited by Michael Cross and Amasa Ndofirepi, 145–60. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6300-842-6_9.
Dweck, Carol S. 2006. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.
Eyler, Joshua R. 2018. How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press.
Feldman, Kenneth A. 1997. “Identifying Exemplary Teachers and Teaching: Evidence from Student Ratings.” In Effective Teaching in Higher Education: Research and Practice, edited by Raymond P. Perry and John C. Smart, 368–95. New York: Agathon.
Fink, L. Dee. 2002. Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Flierl, Michael, Emily Bonem, and Clarence Maybee. n.d. “Developing the Informed Learning Scale: Measuring Information Literacy in Higher Education.”
Franke, Matthew. 2018. “Final Exam Weighting as Part of Course Design.” Teaching & Learning Inquiry 6, no. 1: 91–103. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.6.1.9.
Franke, Wolfgang. 1960. The Reform and Abolition of the Traditional Chinese Examination System. Cambridge, MA: Center for East Asian Studies, Harvard University. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1tg5m5p.
Freeman, Scott, Sarah L. Eddy, Miles McDonough, Michelle K. Smith, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Hannah Jordt, and Mary P. Wenderoth. 2014. “Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 23: 8410–415. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1319030111.
Freire, Paulo. 2005. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, translated by M. Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum. (Original work published 1970).
Gillis, Alanna. 2019. “Reconceptualizing Participation Grading as Skill Building.” Teaching Sociology 47, no. 1: 10–21. https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X18798006.
Ginexi, Elizabeth M. 2003. “General Psychology Course Evaluations: Differential Survey Response by Expected Grade.” Teaching of Psychology 30, no. 3: 248–51.
Glaser, Robert. 1963. “Instructional Technology and the Measurement of Learning Outcomes: Some Questions.” American Psychologist 18, no. 8: 519.
Guay, Frédéric, Robert J. Vallerand, and Céline Blanchard. 2000. “On the Assessment of Situational Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: The Situational Motivation Scale (SIMS).” Motivation and Emotion 24, no. 3: 175–213. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005614228250.
Haugnes, Natasha, Hoag Holmgren, and Martin Springborg. 2018. Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press.
hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.
Hutchings, Pat., Mary T. Huber, and Anthony Ciccone. 2011. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Reconsidered: Institutional Integration and Impact. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Johnson, James E., James A. Jones, Thomas G. Weidner, and Allison K. Manwell. 2019. “Evaluating Academic Rigor, Part II: An Investigation of Student Ratings, Course Grades, and Course Level.” Journal of Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness 9, no. 1/2: 49–78. https://doi.org/10.5325/jasseinsteffe.9.1-2.0049.
Kiyama, Judy M., Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, and Regina Deil-Amen. 2018. “Funds of Knowledge as a Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Higher Education.” In Funds of Knowledge in Higher Education: Honoring Students’ Cultural Experiences and Resources as Strengths, edited by Judy Marquez Kiyama and Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, 176–88. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315447322-11.
Ladson-Billings, Gloria. 1995. “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.” American Educational Research Journal 32, no. 3: 465–91. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312032003465.
Levesque-Bristol, Chantal, Timothy D. Knapp, and Bradley J. Fisher. 2010. “The Effectiveness of Service-Learning: It’s Not Always What You Think.” Journal of Experiential Education 33, no. 2: 208–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/105382590113300302.
Love, David A., and Matthew J. Kotchen. 2010. “Grades, Course Evaluations, and Academic Incentives.” Eastern Economic Journal 36, no. 2: 151–63. https://doi.org/10.1057/eej.2009.6
Mercer-Mapstone, Lucy, and Sophia Abbot. 2020. The Power of Partnership: Students, Staff, and Faculty Revolutionizing Higher Education. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning. https://doi.org/10.36284/celelon.oa2.
Moll, Luis C., Cathy Amanti, Deborah Neff, and Norma Gonzalez. 1992. “Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms.” Theory Into Practice 31, no. 2: 132–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/00405849209543534.
Morris, Sean Michael, and Jesse Stommel. 2018. An Urgency of Teachers: The Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy. Lexington, KY: Hybrid Pedagogy Incorporated.
Nilson, Linda B. 2015. Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo J. 2013. Coloniality of Power in Postcolonial Africa: Myths of Decolonization. Dakar: CODESRIA.
Ndofirepi, Amasa, and Michael Cross. 2017. “University Knowledge for Societal Change in Africa: Unpacking Critical Debates.” In Knowledge and Change in African Universities, edited by Michael Cross and Amasa Ndofirepi, 1–13. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6300-842-6_1.
Ramoupi, Neo L. L., and Roland N. Ntongwe. 2017. “Africanisation of Humanities Knowledge in Universities in Africa: A Critique of the Cameroon and South African Experiences.” In Knowledge and Change in African Universities, edited by Michael Cross and Amasa Ndofirepi, 195–214. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6300-842-6_12.
Rampell, Catherine. 2010. “Grade Inflation: Your Questions Answered” The New York Times. May 13, 2010. https://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/13/grade-inflation-your-questions-answered/
Ryan, Richard M., and Edward L. Deci. 2017. Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness. New York: The Guilford Press. https://doi.org/10.1521/978.14625/28806.
Schnapp, Alain, and Pierre Vidal-Naquet. 1971. The French Student Uprising, November 1967-June 1968: An Analytical Record, translated by Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press. (Original work published 1969).
Seraphin, Sally B., J. Alex Grizzell, Anastasia Kerr-German, Marjorie A. Perkins, Patrick R. Grzanka, and Erin E. Hardin. 2019. “A Conceptual Framework for Non-Disposable Assignments: Inspiring Implementation, Innovation, and Research.” Psychology Learning and Teaching 18, no. 1: 84–97. https://doi.org/10.1177/1475725718811711.
Smith, Jeffrey K., and Lisa F. Smith. 2019. “Grading in Higher Education.” In What We Know about Grading: What Works, What Doesn’t and What’s Next, edited by Thomas R. Guskey and Susan M. Brookhart, 195–213. Alexandria, VA: Ascd.
Sorcinelli, Mary Deane, Ann E. Austin, Pamela L. Eddy, and Andrea L. Beach. 2006. Creating the Future of Faculty Development: Learning from the Past, Understanding the Present. Bolton, MA: Anker Press.
Stommel, Jesse. 2020. “How to Ungrade: A FAQ.” Jesse Stommel. Published, February 6, 2020. https://www.jessestommel.com/ungrading-an-faq/.
Supiano, Beckie. 2019. “Grades Can Hinder Learning. What Should Professors Use Instead?” Chronicle of Higher Education, July 19, 2019. https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20190719_ungrading.
Theobald, Elli J., Mariah J. Hill, Elisa Tran, Sweta Agrawal, E. Nicole Arroyo, Shawn Behling, Nyasha Chambwe, Dianne L. Cintrón, Jacob D. Cooper, Gideon Dunster, Jared A. Grummer, Kelly Hennessey, Jennifer Hsiao, Nicole Iranon, Leonard Jones II, Hannah Jordt, Marlowe Keller, Melissa E. Lacey, Caitlin E. Littlefield, Alexander Lowe, Shannon Newman, Vera Okolo, Savannah Olroyd, Brandon R. Peecook, Sarah B. Pickett, David L. Slager, Itzue W. Caviedes-Solis, Kathryn E. Stanchak, Vasudha Sundaravardan, Camila Valdebenito, Claire R. Williams, Kaitlin Zinsli, and Scott Freeman. 2020. “Active Learning Narrows Achievement Gaps for Underrepresented Students in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117, no. 12: 6476–483. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1916903117.
Tobin, Thomas J., and Kirsten T. Behling. 2018. Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press.
Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. 2005. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Ascd.
Williams, Geoffrey C., and Edward L. Deci. 1996. “Internalization of Biopsychosocial Values by Medical Students: A Test of Self-Determination Theory.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70, 767–79. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1997.
Winter, Richard. 1993. “Education or Grading? Arguments for a Non-Subdivided Honours Degree.” Studies in Higher Education 18, no. 3: 363–77. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079312331382271.
Wright, Robert E., and John C. Palmer. 2006. “Comparative Analysis of Different Models Explaining the Relationship between Instructor Ratings and Expected Student Grades.” Educational Research Quarterly 30, no. 2: 3–19.
Copyright (c) 2021 Daniel Guberman
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.