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We Need a New Grading Rubric for Students in the Information Age

We Need a New Grading Rubric for Students in the Information Age

Start a transportation and logistics management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University

How do we teachers measure the knowledge gained by our students? We use a grading rubric, a matrix of points from 0% to 100%. We judge our students in relation to what is expected of them in online discussion forums or when they produce a written essay or research paper.

Points might be distributed for a written paper according to its contents as judged by the four levels of writing skills — beginning, developing, accomplished or exemplary. These four levels include six specific tasks:

  • Thesis
  • Subject knowledge
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Organization of ideas
  • Grammar
  • Use of computer technology

In all, there are 24 possible combinations for grading a written paper. References with the proper citation style are also necessary.

Grading is based on relevance, completeness and demonstration of understanding of the assignment.

Each student is graded on two rubrics that have a combined total of 40 different outcomes. The instructor measures and assigns a numerical value for both. The professor selects a percentage for each graded item representing how well the students met the assignment. For example, the student might receive a grade of 77.53 for a forum discussion or a 90.64 for a written assignment.

In the end, the students’ knowledge is measured in a number from 0 to 100, turned into a grade of “C” or “A-.”

Is the Grading Rubric Enough for Measuring Students’ Knowledge?

The grading rubric appears to be the key to measuring the students’ knowledge gained from all those assigned papers and discussion forums participation. This grading method might seem like a shallow way to judge students’ knowledge, turning them into mere numbers.

Veteran teachers can remember the days when papers were scored by their appearance and the flow of words. You could spot a plagiarized paper just by spotting a few lines in a student’s paper that differ in style, tone or sophistication.

Today’s rubric is a necessary tool for standardizing grading. It uses a common scale that is easily supportable in any defense of a grade challenge.

Teachers today also have a great tool to spot plagiarism. Turnitin software compares thousands of published papers in online university and journal sources to spot any plagiarized sentences or sections in a student’s paper.

How Can Teachers Determine that Students Have Accomplished Their Learning Objectives and Gained Knowledge?

But does this standard grading rubric method demonstrate that the student has acquired new knowledge? How does a teacher determine that the learning objectives of the course are part of the students’ new knowledge base?

Today, students pull out their iPhones in elementary and high schools to do most mathematical computations. I saw an example of this practice when I substituted for a local high school math teacher. While I added the numbers on the white board, the students did it on their iPhones.

So how do we measure a student’s learning the objectives in our classes as posted in each syllabus? It involves what I call computational learning.

We teach online. Our students are at arm’s length from us, isolated in their own homes, offices or military locations. We are separated by distance and by time. A physical link is missing from the online classroom; the teacher cannot walk around and peer at the students’ work.

How Froot Loops Became an Exercise in Computational Learning and Critical Thinking

There is a way, however, to virtually touch those online students. One way is to use some simple exercise that does not involve reading or writing.

One exercise that I use is having my students count the number of Froot Loops in a 1.5-ounce cereal box. The counting involves several different factors: the six different colors, the data printed on the side of the box and the various data on nutritional content on the back.

The exercise fosters thinking. For example, I ask students to calculate how many steps – the supply chain – are involved from raw grain material until the box of Froot Loops arrives in a bowl. Students must perform some deep thinking. They cannot use the Internet to look up, copy and paste their answers.

What do they learn from this exercise? If the learning objective is to explain the details of a supply chain, then we have some measure of new knowledge that did not come from the textbook.

We teach college students about critical thinking and how to solve complex problems to enhance their writing skills. The supply chain is a very complex process and a simple study of the issues in creating a real product (such as Froot Loops) opens a vision of this complexity.

The concept of critical thinking runs through all university curricula from the two-year junior college to the university granting doctorates.

As teachers, we often attended professional development seminars to improve our collective approach to teaching critical thinking. But that was before the advent of the Internet, Twitter, iPhones and texting.

We now have instant access to answer any question and find any solution to a complex problem. The smart software of artificial intelligence ensures we will not miss an answer to even the most difficult problem.

It is said that people text or tweet up to 80 times a day. However, when you ask high school students, they laugh and say that rate is more like 80 times an hour. As college teachers, we are competing with the Internet, Wikipedia-like mountains of data and smartphone thinking.

Does our online educational platform weaken our students’ ability to think critically, to search and find answers, and to respond to the teacher’s questions or instructions to write a paper? Does this platform weaken a teacher’s ability to measure that students actually have gained the intended knowledge?

Study Suggests that Smartphones Have Ruined Students’ Ability to Reason

In a research study published in the University of Chicago journal, more than 500 undergraduate students were tested by performing simple critical thinking and analysis tasks. The students were grouped into those who had their smartphones on their desks, nearby or out of sight. Those students who had their devices on their desks or in their hands fared better than those students who did not have easy access to their smartphones.

Students in the information age seem to believe they don’t have to memorize anything because they can easily and instantly look up anything they need on their iPhone or laptop. As teachers, how can we give those students ways to think on their own when we ask them to research a complex topic and apply critical thinking toward a plausible solution?

We seem to be building what technology and culture expert Nicholas G. Carr calls “easy to browse blurbs” of curriculum content. We are consumed with the Internet medium. The Internet is like oxygen to the Millennials, the Generation Xers and those under the age of 45.

Should teachers test students over 45 differently from those who are younger? Carr says that while we gain new skills and perspectives thanks to the Internet, we are losing old skills and perspectives. We are prevented from profound thinking or being creative or inventive.

It’s Time to Develop New Ways to Grade Students

Perhaps it is time to rethink the grading system to bridge the gap between the ghost of learning past and the social computational learning that has unfolded around us. Let’s have students create a rubric contract between them and the teacher of each course as well as a grading rubric for their knowledge gained based on their course’s learning objectives.

That does not mean we eliminate the university-created grading rubric. It means that we should use two grading rubrics.

We invite students to be part of the process of earning their course grades. During the first week of the online class, we should ask students to list their goals for taking this class. What do they expect to get out of the class? What do they want in return besides an A grade?

In the final week of class, students could then have one-on-one discussions with their teachers via email, Twitter or phone to examine how the two grading rubrics come together to define their class grades.

Perhaps by creating a computational grading rubric as a bridge to link social media or machine learning with the student’s actual learning, we can rid ourselves of the ghost of learning past. We will then provide a more profound learning experience for our students.

Start a transportation and logistics management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of Reverse Logistics Management Program as well as the Transportation and Logistics Management Program. Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has published two books, RFID Metrics and How Grandma Braided the Rain.




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