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Dangerous Grades

posted: 2.26.14 by Barclay Barrios

I recently reviewed two grade appeal cases that rested on the same grounds.  Both classes used Blackboard to record grades; both students thought they were passing based on the Blackboard grades; both students ended up not passing once attendance was factored in.

I’ve never been fond of Blackboard.  It’s not just that its underlying technology always feels just a bit dated.  It’s that the tool itself is so clearly designed for massive lecture-based courses, making it rest awkwardly on top of smaller courses focused on writing.  But these appeals highlighted for me another danger: giving students the wrong impression of their progress in the course.

Granted, it’s not really a problem with Blackboard.  Students are responsible for tracking their grades in a course and that includes being aware of policies regarding and penalties for excessive absences.  And in both cases I think, too, it would have been wise for the instructor to include a statement of the syllabus along the lines of “Since your attendance grade is not determined until the end of the class and since it can severely impact your overall grade you are strongly advised to consult with me about your progress if you have any questions or concerns or if you have missed class.”  So, yes, there is blame enough for all human involved.  But I can’t help blaming the technology as well, if only a bit.

I often find myself in this bind: an ardent tech head at home but at times a near luddite in the classroom.  I find it a difficult marriage, technology and teaching.  Hardly a marriage, really—much more an extended if tumultuous courtship.  It’s a line I walk and walk again, stumbling along the way.  That’s all well and good since I believe in trying out technologies to help my students succeed but what happens when my experiments with technology harm students?  What happens when my use of technology fails them?

I’m wondering about your experience with tech problems in the classroom, the kind that make the difference between a student succeeding and not in particular.  Have you ever tried something that failed so spectacularly that it undermined students or the course itself?

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One Response to “Dangerous Grades”

  1. Traci Gardner Says:

    I’m having exactly the problems you are describing, Barclay, so I really appreciate this post. What frustrates me is that I really want to be open about their grades, but the gradebook feature in our CMS (Sakai) is very limited. I can’t use the grade scale that I want. I can’t make grades weight the way I want. And I can’t find any way to adjust the grades for attendance.

    At the same time, I can’t think of any way that I can give students constant access to their grades that would fit within FERPA requirements without creating a ridiculous amount of work on my part. Things seemed a lot simpler when I didn’t share grades in progress. I so hope someone posts a useful alternative.