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, Professor of Teaching in Chemistry, 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, Organic Chemistry Laboratory Coordinator, 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, Lecturer in Chemistry, Emory University
Stephen Mang, Assistant Professor of Teaching, 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, Professor of Mathematics, 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, Clinical Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, 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, Associate Professor of Teaching in Chemistry, UC Irvine
William J Howitz, Organic Chemistry Laboratory Coordinator, Georgia Institute of Technology
Kate McKnelly, Lecturer in Chemistry, 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, Instructor of Chemistry and Statistics, 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.