Spring quarter is quickly approaching — another quarter in which GauchoSpace will be one of your main instructional tools. Therefore, it's a good time to reflect on one of the most important functions of GauchoSpace: grading. Before the quarter begins, it is wise to decide on an overall grading strategy for your course, plan an efficient and consistent grading workflow, and develop a strategy for sharing grades with students. As you probably already know, Gauchospace gives you the ability to assess your students through a wide variety of activities, but often the practice of grading may not be entirely intuitive because grading procedures can vary considerably from one activity to another (e.g. quizzes vs. assignments vs. forums). This article presents some grading “best practices” and discusses some relevant GauchoSpace features.
Best practice #1: Plan ahead
It’s always a good idea to build your gradebook before the first week of the quarter. Not only will this help you economize time during the busy quarter, but students will immediately be able to see, in their own gradebook view, which assignments are gradable and the respective weights in relation to the course total. Doing so usually entails creating all activities ahead of time so that they have a place in the gradebook even if the rest of the settings are not set initially. If this sounds intimidating, don't worry just yet! Keep in mind that after creating an activity, you can always expand or edit it later. For example, creating a Quiz activity does not necessarily entail authoring all of the questions inside of it. Likewise, creating a Forum activity does not require drafting an initial post or discussion topic. Even activities that are not conducted online and can still be represented in the GauchoSpace gradebook by creating a manual grade item. Related grade items can be organized into categories, as well. For a comprehensive introduction to building a well-structured gradebook, please consider reading the gradebook setup article our online Help Center. Other ways that you can plan ahead include creating assignment rubrics or grading guides in advance and importing the gradebook from a past quarter's course page.
Best practice #2: Be fair
To ensure that students receive fair grades it is necessary to accurately aggregate individual assignment grades when calculating a student’s total grade. In particular, it is especially important to be aware if the “exclude empty grades” setting is applied. If so, you should make sure that missing assignments are given zeros. Otherwise, a student’s grade might drop suddenly later in the quarter when you or your TAs realize that missing work has not been accounted for. If you need to change a student’s grade retroactively, it is best to use a “gradebook override” in which you can leave a comment to the student. It's also important to make sure that the weights assigned to each activity in the gradebook honor the weights specified in your course syllabus, and that these weights do not change over the course of the quarter.
Another aspect of fair grading is the timing of feedback. You may risk losing impartiality if some students receive grades and feedback long after others. Understandably, it often takes instructors several days to completely grade all of the student submissions for a given assignment. If this is the case for you, we recommend using the grading workflow feature when grading assignment activities in order to release all student grades and feedback at the same time.
Best practice #3: Be transparent
It's crucial that students know where and when they can find their grades. Instructors may be tempted to assign all grades directly in the gradebook “Grader Report” or “Single View”, however this is not recommended. Recall that each activity has its own corresponding grading interface where students are used to checking for their grades and feedback. For example, assignment activities should be graded in the assignment grader interface. Forum activities may be graded in a variety of ways, but most common is to give a rating to each individual student post. Quiz essay questions can be graded through the quiz manual grading interface.
Also, take care not to hide activities on the course page unnecessarily — their corresponding grade items will disappear in the gradebook too! For example, quizzes do not need to be hidden prior to the open date/time because questions will not be available to students until the quiz opening time/date. On the other hand, if you do not want students to see grades for a certain assignment (when gradually releasing student grades, for example), you can hide the corresponding grade item in the gradebook without hiding the activity itself on the course page.
Finally, if you are planning to assess students with the quiz activity, think carefully about which “quiz review options” to apply. These settings affect what feedback is visible to students and when it is made available.
Best practice #4: Don’t overcomplicate things
It's always best to keep your students’ experience in mind when creating assessments and grading schemes. We recommend using systems that are as similar as possible to those used by other instructors; it’s hard for students when each course has a totally different grading system. This principle has direct consequences for your gradebook setup. Keep the organization intuitive by having the structure of your gradebook mirror that of your syllabus and nesting similar assignments in categories for organization. Also, we strongly recommend only using the "Natural" aggregation scheme and avoid “custom calculations” wherever possible (if you aren't familiar with these concepts, don't worry!) Finally, you may find it helpful both before and during the quarter to view the gradebook from a student perspective using the "User Report".
We hope that you find these tips helpful and we wish you a great upcoming quarter. Please remember to take advantage of our online Help Center, support ticket service, and one-on-one drop-in consultation meetings!