Monday, July 17, 2006

Topic for Discussion: Grading Methods

I'd like my classes to feel distinctly game-like, so it's only suitable that the grades themselves are game-like. So far I've considered two ideas, and I'm trying to decide between them.

Method 1: Dance Dance Revolution scoring.
The class is out of a maximum of 1,000,000 points. A typical assignment might be 100,000 or so. Giving out awards of a few thousand here or there for class participation is easy, and it's more points than they'd get in all their other classes combined.

Method 2: Zelda scoring.
You start with a full health meter of 100 hearts. When you lose points on an assignment, your grade "takes damage". Extra credit provides "healing". You can keep track of your own grade on a life meter provided on the syllabus.

Zelda scoring is more realistic in that students always know exactly what their maximum possible grade is, and overall where they stand. But it can also be more demoralizing and intimidating since you're always losing points instead of gaining them, and it sets up an adversarial culture between me and my students since I'm dealing damage with every assignment.

Do you have a favorite? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

7 comments:

Darius Kazemi said...

Zelda scoring would be, frankly, horrible. If a student knows they're in failing territory, they also know there is no possible way for them to not fail anymore. Why continue taking the class?

Unless of course, you offer power-ups.

Still, I think DDR scoring is better.

Duncan said...

I agree with Darius that Zelda-style scoring would be harsh on students. As a gamer, I'm always trying to keep full health, so knowing that a poor assignment will permanently lower my health with little chance of catching a magic fairy would be demoralizing.

On the other hand, you could go with an RPG-style system. It works in the same way as the DDR, but with less flash, and more definite progression. You award XP for each successful assignment or task. it takes 250 XP (or whatever) to "Level Up". Next level at 500 XP. You would then need a minimum level to pass, and a maximum level would result in a perfect grade. You'd have to tweak the numbers to allow for the full grade point swing, but it would feel more like a game. It would give you a good sense of progression, and how much each student is taking from the course as well: just look at thier current level.

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Ian Schreiber said...

Suppose a student is doing really poorly, like the class is only halfway done and the best they can do is a D+.

Yeah, a life meter that shows them how bad they're doing is demoralizing. But... in that case, should the scoring system be obfuscating that fact so the student thinks they're doing better than they are? Or should the student see a VERY CLEAR message that they'd better drop if they want to preserve their GPA?

Adam Yulish said...

I agree that a negative-option grading system is rough, even when in the form of container hearts. I like Duncan's idea of allowing students to "level up" in their grade, which seems to emphasize both progress and lost opportunities as they happen. That said, I wouldn't revamp the "grade interface", so to speak. The reason classes have grades is to quantifiably fit performance into a larger scheme. At best, a creative grading scheme will amuse students. At worst, it will confuse them. I say stick with an A/B/C/D/F or 0-100 grading scale, and save the fun stuff for the classes and projects.

Some students are pretty loose about grades, some are not, and some depend on good grades to keep their school funding. No matter what system you use, students will always want to know how that system translates into their GPA. If a student's misunderstanding of your grading system led to nothing more than a reduction in their grade, that's no big deal. But if such a misunderstanding ultimately led to a reduction in their financial aid, that could cause potential problems.

I think there's plenty of opportunity to talk about design issues within different grading systems (such as the flexibility of vagueness in a letter-based grading system versus a number-based system) without having to come up with a system that puts your teaching goals at risk. To be sure, I don't think a student's going to go postal on you for a creative grading system. But I do think a traditional grading system will support your teaching goals better than a creative system.

In a nutshell, I say don't over-design your grading system. :)

Patrick Dugan said...

If you're really designing a Zelda grading system you need the option for students to pick-up new hearts, as well as gain heart containers which decrease the loss load of each hit, against a progressive curve of increasing damage points as the semester progresses.

Mike Montgomery said...

I think the ideal scoring leverages the previous article about progressive importance of assignments. Ideally, there should be two parallel scoring systems, and your grade is the higher of the two.

One system could be more or less the traditional style scoring, where each assignment is averaged with about equal weight, regardless of whether the assignment is early or late in the course. This would keep students interested in grades early on, since they could potentially pull up a bad test at the end of the term.

The second system would give higher weight to the end of the term assignments (assuming a class that progressively builds; not so applicable to a survey class). In this case, if you didn't really "get it" until near the end of the term, but then everything clicked for you, you could ace the last assignment and get a good grade. After all, in a progressive class, it does not really matter how slow you were to catch on, as long as by the end of the term, you have a command of the material. Such a grade could reflect this. This could motivate students who had a poor start to stick with it, and really try to understand what is being taught, since their early failures will not count against them if they eventually master the material.

Halfawake said...

How about a grading system that has no theoretical maximum? (Did Mario score like that?) You could set point minimum's for earning certain grades, but beyond that everything would be graded on some curve, so students would always be looking for scoring opportunities. You could give bonus points for doing well on consecutive assignments (the equivalent of hopping on multiple monsters in a row in Mario). I like it because it would make the grading alot less linear and reward consistent high-performance.