SoTL SHOWCASE: Ungrading – ditching the numerical scores to improve learning and engagement (5 min lightning talk in 90 minute roundtable)

  • Cara Frankenfeld George Mason University, College of Health and Human Services, Associate Professor


NOTE: This is a 5-minute presentation that is part of a 90-min SoTL Showcase Lightning Talks and Roundtable Discussion.

TEACHING CHALLENGE: While grades represent a way to differentiate student accomplishment or mastery of material, grade anxiety is a critical issue among students. Concern has been raised in the pedagogical literature as to whether numerical grades impair, rather than encourage, student learning. SOLUTION

STRATEGY: For two graduate courses, ungrading approaches were implemented in an attempt to reduce grade anxiety and enhance student learning. Feedback was provided on student work, but numerical scores were eliminated or reduced. In one course (completed), no numerical grades were provided for any of the student work and students selected and justified their earned grade at the end of the semester. In another course (in progress), in order to address necessary data collection for competency attainment for secondary accreditation, summative assignments were ungraded and a single formative final exam was graded. Grades for the course were based on completion of summative assignments along with the score for the final exam.

CONTEXT/EVIDENCE:A driving factor in the implementation of ungrading was empirical evidence that supports that students do not remember qualitative feedback when presented with numerical scores. From anecdotal evidence, student interactions often primarily center on numerical scores rather than substantive content. For example, students often ask why did I miss these points, rather than asking what I am missing to understand this material. The former puts teachers on the defensive to justify a score and focus on the negative what was wrong, where the latter can open up a dialogue about the material. A major objective was to shift the student focus to learning the material and encourage risk-tasking and utilizing individual strengths in learning.

FORMAT: The session will provide a summary of research on student engagement and learning related to numerical grades and an overview of ungrading approaches described in pedagogical literature. The presenter will provide an overview of the two approaches taken and the rationale for each approach, given the different courses. In the completed course, based on the pre- and post-course assessment, students gained “a little more” to “a lot more” confidence in all of the areas that the course is designed to address. Additional data and feedback from the course in progress will be provided and contrasted. As part of the session, participants will be provided with a reflection worksheet and have small group discussion.

TAKE AWAYS/ADAPTATION: Participants will able to assess whether their course/s might be appropriate to ungrading approaches and what resources they need to implement. Participants will also receive a list of ungrading approaches and associated research.

THURSDAY 1:00pm-2:30pm SoTL Showcase: Lightning Talks & Roundtable