Fixing what ain’t broke

eggbandaidThis semester I did a bad thing – I took something that was working perfectly well (ok, maybe it had one little weakness) and tried to improve it.

By “improve”, I mean I changed it to make it more detailed instead of leaving it broad.

It’s that Contrbution Assessment, the one I’ve been so happy with. I revised it because there were one or two things being misconstrued. The criteria all seemed roughly equivalent, so some thought they could not do any context readings, or not help others. I thought I could fix that.

So I changed it to make the assignment more specific, by asking the students to comment on each of the 12 criteria in the new rubric I made:


Forum Posts, Essays and Final Exams

  1. Use of class materials and activities is expected.
    Essays have made full use (A), good use (B), some use (C), little use (D), or no use (F) of class materials and activities.
  2. Essay theses must be interpretive.
    Essay theses are highly interpretive (A), solidly interpretive (B), primarily factual with some interpretation (C), factual (D) or not a thesis (F).
  3. Essays must use the required number of primary sources from the forums.
    The required number of sources used in the essay are all primary (A or B), mostly primary (C), mostly secondary (D), all secondary or not used(F).
  4. Sources must be fully cited.
    Sources in the essay are fully cited (B), almost all fully cited (B), mostly cited (C), not all cited (D) or not cited (F).
  5. Writing must be at the college level.
    Writing in the essay is at the college level or higher (A), at the college freshman English 100 level (B), at the high school level (C), below the high school level (D or F).

Contribution to the Class

  1. Students should log in at least three times a week.
    Logs in more than three times a week (A), 2-3 times a week (B), once a week (C), less than weekly (D or F).
  2. Students should post/reply at least three times a week in the forums.
    Posts in forums three times a week (A), 2-3 times a week (B or C), once a week (C or D), less than weekly (F).
  3. Students should respond to guidance from instructor, learn from group (rather than individual) feedback, and get help from the FAQ and college resources as needed.
    Responds to instructor guidance as provided through examples, replies, and messages – always (A), almost always (B), mostly (C), occasionally (D), never (F).
  4. Students should be helpful to others through commenting, suggesting, or providing good examples in the forums.
    Is helpful to other students weekly (A), regularly (B), occasionally (C), rarely (D), not at all (F)
  5. Work in the forum should be connected to class lectures and readings.
    Work in the forum is clearly connected to class lectures and readings in every post (A), in many posts (B), in some posts (C), in few posts (D), in no posts (F).Lectures and readings should be completed weekly.
  6. Lectures and readings have been completed every week on schedule (A), weekly (B), most weeks (C), few weeks (D), rarely (F).
  7. Student work should reflect the student’s own interests.
    Writing for theses and essays has been obviously related to the student’s own interests every week (A), most of the time (B), occasionally (C), rarely (D), never (F).


A couple of things happened, and I noticed it first on the mid-term assessment. Some students copied the whole criteria list, and I couldn’t tell which level they were indicating as the one they achieved (text formatting got lost, I suspect, between their writing program and Moodle). Some just listed them (1,2,3) and just put a grade for each (1.A, 2.B, 3. B+) and I kept having to reference the list to tell what they were assessing. Some ignored it completely and just told me what their grade should be.

Now typically, the grades they tell me are really close to what they’ve contributed in terms of their writing and forum posts, and helping each other. Their evaluations of their own contribution have been honest, and the assignment interesting to grade. I’ve been able to check what they say against a downloaded list of their total posts, and their activity as tracked by the LMS.

But I noticed on the mid-term assessment that the grades were a little more off. More students (not a lot) were saying they should get a higher grade than was indicated. They would even discuss all 12 items, tell me they were earning C’s in three or four of them, then say they should get an A anyway.

And now I’m seeing it again, only more marked, on the end-of-term assessments. Some students didn’t read the comments on the first assessment, so didn’t improve, but listed the same grades and said they should get the same as last time. Many more are asking for higher grades than indicated by the criteria. I’m feeling like a meanie, instead of affirming their view. Ugh.

A couple of possibilities:

The 12 points were overwhelming rather than encouraging of reflection.

The 12 points made it appear overly formulaic, so they felt they didn’t have as much flexibility in determing their grade. It came off like a game to trap them, rather than an iterative process designed to engender self-analysis. People respond to games by deciding not to play – or, if the game seems deceptive, they cheat.

Either way, I constructed this and now need to deconstruct it for the summer, or certainly for the fall, and go back to the way I had it before – reference the rubric, then say what you’ve earned and why, and that’s it. In this case, flexibility was better than precision.

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