“Grade-centrism”: Are we in danger of trapping students to behave in a certain way?

Recently we had the privilege in Beyond distance of hosting Charmaine Ryan, from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in Australia. She gave a presentation on approaches to e-Assessment at the School of Information Systems at USQ. She described the challenges faced by her department in 2004 of late submission of assignments and several request for extensions. To resolve these problems, and taking into consideration that the majority of students on the programme came from collectivist societies, a decision was taken to introduce collaborative group online assessment strategy utilising a mixture of group and individual assessment and group on-line discussion. Students were required to contribute to the development of two case study reports within their groups and to also make postings to a general discussion area either critiquing or summarising a number of prior postings. At the end of the semester a 24 hour individual case study report was submitted followed by a two hour examination. Reported outcome, of the new intervention, was reduction in the number of requests for extensions and also improvements in grades.

In the UK, and like many parts of the world, the use of “marks” and “grades” to drive learning and to measure learning outcomes is well established. The view that students will only learn if they are awarded “grades”, “credits” and “marks” etc has led to a situation where curriculum design has placed much emphasis on learning outcomes in terms of the number of credits a student has to receive at the end of each academic year. The question which needs to be asked is, by promoting “grade-centrism” are we not in danger of entrapping students to behave in a particular way by using the carrot and stick of grades and marks (MacDowell 2007), which may lead to “shallow learning” i.e. learning what is needed to pass an exam? How do we make students aware of deep learning where outcomes are not grades, marks or credits but include the capacity to learn more effectively making learning to learn the main goal (Hulberg et al 2008). The Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange (ASKe) initiative has made the case for greater emphasis to be placed on assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning.  The collaborative group online assessment strategy at USQ is surely a “blended assessment” process which provides a lot of food for thought.

Sahm Nikoi (BDRA – 26 April 2009)

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