Alternative Grading

Equitable Grading and Ecosystems for More Caring Communities

The Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Washington recently invited me to give a talk for their Reflection and Practice Seminar series on alternative grading. I’m proud to have presented the talk to over 200 attendees from UW and beyond. Contact me at kevinl@cs.uw.edu to arrange a talk.

In this talk, I’ll reflect on my experiences with alternative grading practices that better represent the learning that students achieve over time, producing more equitable outcomes by changing the way we determine final grades. Moreover, alternative grading also has the potential to empower students by making space for creative student work that might not otherwise thrive in a points-based grading ecosystem. But grading policies on their own often aren’t enough—at least not in the grade-focused culture at UW—so I’ll also share some of the challenges that I’ve faced and how I work toward better relationships between students, educators, and grades.

The recent 2024 Teaching & Learning Showcase highlighted three UW teams’ work on alternative grading.

At the end of the talk, a number of remaining questions focused on workload: How do you approach and respond to workload issues when using Alternative Grading?

It can certainly seem like a burden to provide both helpful feedback and redesign grades to reflect student achievement by the end of the quarter. But many practitioners that use revisions or resubmissions actually report workload staying about the same as before: instead of spending time wrestling with assigning the most fair amount of partial credit, that time is instead spent working with students to evaluate their revisions. Ultimately, this depends on answering a few questions about the learning objectives for the course: What are your course’s learning objectives? How are they currently being assessed? Considering both the syllabus and prior quarter’s gradebooks, which objectives are being underassessed, overassessed, or assessed just right?

If you would prefer to present, adapt, or extend these ideas yourself, the slides are licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.