Mini Seminars

The Teaching Experiment Academy (TEA) hosted a series of Mastery Learning seminars. The goal of these seminars is to support faculty in redesigning their STEM courses with Specifications Grading to increase student’s growth mindset and improve learning outcomes.

Presenter: Renée Link, UC Irvine

Assessing student work to assign final course letter grades has depended traditionally on points-based grading systems. This approach to grading in the college classroom is not ideal as it places emphasis on the extrinsic motivational factor of accumulating points rather than the intrinsic motivation of learning and meeting course learning outcomes. Specifications grading represents a new grading system that moves away from a reliance on points and has the potential to make positive changes in student learning. I will describe the origins of specifications grading, its potential to reduce grading inequities, and several examples of its use across STEM disciplines.

Presenter: William J Howitz, Georgia Institute of Technology

Specifications grading is worth the time and effort to incorporate into STEM courses, but it may not always be feasible to completely convert a course from a points-based grading system to a specifications grading system if there is limited time to do so. Fortunately there are ways to implement elements of mastery learning, a critical component of specifications grading, into a course without completely converting the course to specifications grading. In this presentation I will share a couple of examples of mastery learning components I have integrated into a lecture course and a laboratory course to demonstrate how other educators could take similar approaches.

Presenters: Kate McKnelly, Emory University; Stephen Mang, UC Irvine

At UC Irvine, the chemistry department’s Writing for Chemists course was re-designed using a specifications grading system. The following goals guided the redesign: 1) to teach students how to develop their own writing practice, while mastering chemistry discipline-specific writing conventions, 2) to provide students with frequent and constructive instructor and teaching assistant (TA) feedback by providing ample revision opportunities, 3) to increase transparency in how students can achieve course SLOs, and 4) to provide students with consistent and clear assessment rubrics. This talk will cover the process of designing assignments and rubrics, as well as student performance and perceptions of the new grading system.

Presenter: Robert Talbert, Grant Valley State University

In this presentation, we’ll look at the ideas behind specifications grading and “mastery grading” in general, examine specific ways to implement these grading practices in STEM courses, and address common issues and concerns with their use. Specific examples from the presenter’s own courses in mathematics and computer science will provide the basis for a larger conversation about how mastery grading can be implemented in different ways, on different scales, and with different goals in mind.

Presenter: Julie Mendez, Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus

The last few years have seen a rise in nontraditional grading practices. One such method is specifications grading, in which instead of using points or partial credit, assignments are scored pass/fail based on requirements provided in the assignment instructions. The grader can relatively quickly determine if the assignment specifications were met; with less time spent on determining partial credit, more time can be devoted to providing feedback. Students can revise and resubmit some assignments. A student’s course grade is determined by the number of assignments successfully completed. This seminar will cover an overview of how to implement specifications grading, with examples from courses in different modalities.

Presenters: Renée Link, UC Irvine; William J Howitz, Georgia Institute of Technology; Kate McKnelly, Emory University

Specifications grading has been used across numerous disciplines to support student-centered learning. Examples of specifications grading often focus on smaller lecture courses. We first created a specifications grading system for one of three courses in a chemistry laboratory series and then scaled the grading format to support the full series of courses, with over 1,000 students enrolled in each course. This talk will describe how we designed our grading system, how we scaled it in a large lab course, how student grades were impacted, and how the system was perceived by the instructors, students, and TAs.

Ungrading: Expanding the Grading Discussion

Presenter: Rissa Sorensen-Unruh, Central New Mexico Community College

Now that you’ve learned about specifications grading, let’s talk about ungrading. Ungrading describes several different kinds of student evaluation, with a dual emphasis on extensive feedback and making grades a conversation between teacher and student, not just a monologue from teacher to student. Ungrading embraces socially just practices, focusing on student learning, not student performance. Our discussion on ungrading will include the types of ungrading, the basics of implementing ungrading in different contexts, and audience questions and answers regarding ungrading.

Connecting Rubrics and Outcomes with Canvas Assignments for Mastery Learning and Specifications Grading

Presenters: Eileen Chen, San Jose State University; Nikos Mourtos, San Jose State University; Burford J. Furman, San Jose State University; Mahima Agumbe Suresh, San Jose State University

Rubrics support instructors to communicate learning expectations with students and ensure grading is consistent across the class. In the session, we will demonstrate how to set up the Canvas Rubrics and Outcomes for an assignment. Also, three faculty guest speakers from San Jose State University (SJSU) will share their teaching experience, showcase their rubric design in Canvas, and discuss ways to align assessments and rubrics with learning outcomes.

Presenters: Eileen Chen, San Jose State University; Berit Givens, Cal Poly Pomona

Canvas Outcomes and Mastery Learning Gradebook allow an instructor to track a student’s mastery level over contents across multiple assignments within a course. It helps instructors assess the outcome standards aligned with Canvas assignments and quizzes to efficiently determine students’ learning needs. Also, the data presented in the Canvas Mastery Learning Gradebook provides curriculum alignment evidence to fulfill the accreditation requirements. We will demonstrate how to enable Mastery Learning Gradebook to view students’ learning outcomes in the session. In addition, two faculty guest speakers from Cal Poly Pomona and San Jose State University will share their teaching practices and showcase how they use Canvas Mastery Learning Outcomes to support the student learning experience.

Managing a Token System for Specifications Grading

Presenters: Stephen Mang, UC Irvine; Kate McKnelly, Emory University

A token economy is a means by which you can appropriately limit revision/resubmission/reassessment opportunities while also incorporating flexibility and second chances for students. In this workshop we will discuss how to create a token economy and communicate its function to students. We will demonstrate how the LMS can be used to track when students take advantage of these opportunities, and the roles of instructors and Teaching Assistants (TAs) will be discussed. We will also show how Google Forms or similar technologies can be used to simplify the workload presented by token economies in very large courses.

Using Gradescope Rubrics and Assignments to Support Mastery Learning and Specifications Grading

Presenters: Jennifer Foung, UC Irvine

Redesigning a course for specifications grading can have several challenges, such as figuring out a way to grade student work quickly and consistently, needing to set up multiple grading rubrics and determining how to analyze student mastery of course concepts. Gradescope is an online assessment and grading tool that can help instructors overcome these challenges by offering an interface that allows for streamlined uploading and grading of assignments, simple rubric creation, and providing powerful question-by-question student analytics. In this workshop, participants will learn about how to get started with Gradescope in Canvas, specs grading considerations and how it impacts assignment and rubric creation, and tips, tricks, and best practices in how to successfully use Gradescope for specs grading.