No Grades, No Problem

A recent article I co-wrote with Dr. Kathy Greenberg and Dr. Lauren Moret focused on a graduate online course that was “ungraded.” Ungrading is a trendy term used to describe courses that, at minimum, don’t use grades in a traditional way, and, at most, throw grades out the window. A lot gets written about grades from academics and students probably write about them a lot, too. Usually in complainy/stressed/celebratory ways.

One of the most well known of the academics who writes about grades is Alfie Kohn. His “The Case Against Grades” is a clear, short review of some of the research. Another scholar well known for ungrading is Susan Blum, an anthropology professor at Duke who wrote a book called I Love Learning, I Hate School. These and other authors detail the issues that most people know about based on their own experiences in schools: grades are a game and part of succeeding in school is figuring out how to play. They interfere with learning and relationships and act more as a punishment than reward.

For our article we analyzed reflections that students wrote at the conclusion of the ungraded course taught by Dr. Greenberg. We each did an independent analysis and then brought the three analyses together. One of the funnest parts of data analysis for me in recent years is drawing an image to represent the results. It’s an idea I first got from Dr. Moret, when she suggested I do a drawing to represent my dissertation results.

My drawing

The drawing attempts to symbolize the themes, or major findings, of the research. If I were to narrate, it would go like this: Students in the course began in a tumultuous sea of uncertainty due to the lack of grades and few delineated requirements. They made genuine connections with each thanks to the vulnerability and openness they shared. The student experience of other students (SEOS), along with the guidance of Dr. Greenberg, led them through a mental transformation. They learned to trust their own process of teaching and learning. They went from feeling “adrift” to feeling an “untethered” freedom to learn. They also discussed a powerful newfound empathy for their students. With this clear view of teaching and learning, they forged ideas and practices that would serve them in their personal and professional lives.

If you’re interested, it’s only 5000 words! 🙂

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