Looking Back At LOBA – Fall 2012

With the new term about to start I’m spending time reflecting on what worked and what didn’t and what changes I need to make to my grading scheme. I tend to focus on all the things that didn’t work so it’s good for me to remind myself how wells things actually do work out. In addition to talking about how things in my class I’ll also mention what some of my colleagues have experienced. Currently there are seven other physics faculty at UW-Stout using LOBA besides myself. We’ve been meeting every other week, along with a mathematics faculty member and another from apparel design who will implement LOBA this coming term. It is pretty exciting that so many people were excited by what I did with my grading and felt they wanted to jump on board  My goal is to compile data from all the students and faculty involved to provide guidance for future adopters.

What Didn’t Work

  • The biggest issue I ran into was students putting off reassessment until later in the term. I had a policy requiring them to reassess at least once within three weeks of the second in-class assessment on a particular chapter, but I didn’t have a good system for keeping track of who did what when, so I wasn’t diligent about bugging students to reassess. I also have a philosophical qualm about hounding students to reassess because I want them to take responsibility for their learning. What I’ve come to decide is that LOBA is so different than the grading scheme they are used to that they need the extra push and external accountability provided by me, at least in the beginning. This semester I’m going to (1) shorten the window from three weeks down to two, (2) require that they reassess at least once within the two week window after each in-class assessment (and not just after the second in-class assessment for each chapter), and (3) reduce their final grade by 1/6 of a letter grade for each time they miss the two week window. By reducing the final letter grade by 1/6, this means that their grade will only drop every other time they miss reassessing so the consequences will be low enough not to discourage students who have trouble getting organized. Now I just need to figure out how to track the reassessment dates and automatically determine when students have missed the deadlines (I know I won’t do it by hand). I should note that students can continue to reassess after the two week window as much as they need to and the only thing I’m trying to accomplish is to get students to not procrastinate. Two of the other physics instructors actually set hard deadlines for reassessment (I think it was three weeks in both cases) and students who didn’t reassess within that time frame couldn’t reassess on the material. The results were very different. For one instructor, students managed to meet the deadlines and they ending up doing fairly well in the course. The other instructor had many students miss the deadlines and quite a few ended up dropping the course or they received a failing grade. It isn’t clear what the difference was between the two classes, but we’ll be making tweaks and looking closely at this problem this coming term.
  • The second issue (and I’m not sure it is an issue) is that students weren’t studying before the in-class assessments but would wait for the reassessments to start studying in earnest. It’s my belief that students should be given the opportunity to manage their time how they want and to regulate their own learning, but the end result is that I end up having to write and grade more reassessments than if they studied and demonstrated proficiency on the in-class assessments up front. Some of my colleagues do not share my hands-off approach and feel we should figure out how get students to study for the in-class assessments. We haven’t come up with any stellar ideas on how to do this short of reducing the reassessment opportunities, which removes one of the key benefits of LOBA – that students should be allowed to learn from their mistakes without fear of penalty.

What Did Work

  • I was very happy with my (mostly) automated grade book and had almost no grading error this term. Inputting all the scores directly into Excel and using the Python plug-in has helped me stay organized. My only complaint is the Python plug-in running in Excel tends to run slow for larger assessments.
  • I continue to require students to sign up for reassessment using a Google form but the big change last term is that I managed to keep track of which version of each reassessment students took. It was easy enough to sort the Google spreadsheet to see which version a student had already taken so I never gave them a duplicate version. It also cut down on the amount of printing I needed to do since I knew which versions I needed, thereby saving paper.
  • Dividing the learning objectives up into A-level and C-level learning objectives has worked pretty well. I think all of my colleagues have done something similar (one instructor actually has D-level and B-level learning objectives too) and it does a good job of insuring students focus on the basic C-level material. The one snag we’ve run into is a few students think A-levels should count as C-levels. I can understand students being disappointed if they have completed a few A-levels, but not having them effect their grade until they’ve completed all the C-levels, but the goal of LOBA is to make sure they’ve mastered the basics.
  • Positive student feedback is very positive and shows that, for these students, the grading system is doing what we want it to – getting them to focus on practicing and mastering the material rather than worrying about how many points they need. Although we do get negative student feedback, most of it is a result of students not taking responsibility for their own learning (the rest of the negative comments typically result from a failure to clearly communicate how the grading system works, which is something we are still trying to perfect).

In Summary

I’m very happy with where LOBA is and how it has grown over the past three semesters. Next semester we’ll have seven different courses taught by eight different instructors all using LOBA. When I developed LOBA a year and a half ago I didn’t imagine that it would grow so quickly. There are still a few hurdles (like how to introduce students to the grading system) and philosophical issues to discuss (is it right to force students to study before the in-class assessments), but I think things are going strong.

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