Home > Uncategorized > Blogging in the Classroom: Grading

Blogging in the Classroom: Grading

This past semester I read and graded almost 700 blog posts from my students. Add this to 140 analysis essays and 210 essay exams and the question of grading becomes a major issue. I believe that a writing intensive course is highly beneficial for students. Almost any introduction to theology syllabus I have seen includes a course goal that students will either become more intelligent and critical readers of texts or be able  think more critically in general. I do not know how this can be accomplished without regular writing (and discussion in class). Of course, at some point the sheer amount of grading becomes prohibitive for the professor. I taught two sections of the same course and had seventy students. I have a colleague with 140 students next semester (with no graduate assistant). Others probably have even more. It is for these people that grading 10-15 blogs per student during the semester seems overwhelming; and it is to these people that I recommend blogging in the classroom.

One of the first decisions I made (particularly after my teaching mentor was worried for my time and sanity with the grading) was to grade the blogs pass/fail. This substantially decreases the amount of time spent grading since one does not have to debate between A, B, C, D, F or even check plus, check, check minus. I subscribed to all of the student blogs with Google Reader and most of the time I could grade all seventy posts in an evening. If a student followed the assignment and showed some thought then he or she received a pass.  Out of almost 700 posts, only about 25 did not receive passing grades during the semester and most of those were for people who did not complete the assignment; only a handful received outright failing grades for a post that was completed on time. This raises two further issues though: student motivation and grade inflation.

Given that students know the grading is being done pass/fail, one might assume that the quality of the writing and the motivation of the students would decrease substantially. I did not find that this was the case for a couple of reasons. First, the public nature of the blogs goes a long way in ensuring some student effort. Students are less like to blow off the assignment when they know that their classmates will be reading their reflections. The quality of the blogs obviously varied from person to person and week to week but overall I think the public nature helped a great deal in maintaining a level of quality with which I was quite happy. Second, each week I would write a highlight post to point out some of the best and most interesting blogs. About halfway through the semester I became a bit frustrated with this because I could tell (via wordpress) that not many students actually clicked on the links to read the blogs I highlighted (to be expected, I know!). I casually mentioned the highlight post one day in class and the students immediately said how much they loved them. Taken aback I asked why. It turns out that first-year students in college like a gold star just as much as elementary students do. The possibility of public acknowledgment of their work by me, the professor, was significant motivation for many of the students (I had one student excitedly announce to the class around the 7th blog post assignment that he had finally made the highlights on my blog).

The other danger I see in pass/fail grading is its impact on the final grade. In my course the blogs were worth 20% of the students’ final grades (15% from their own blogs and 5% from their commenting within their groups). Most students received a 100% for this portion of their grade, and in the end I think that this raised their grades too significantly. They had five other major assignments (papers/exams) but I found that I graded these without taking into account the fact that most students would be received a very large bump in their grade from the blogs. One way of adjusting this would simply be to be stricter when grading other assignments and I will do this to a certain extent in the future. However, the main change I will make next time I use blogs in the classroom would be to have “pass” be somewhere between 90-95%. I would reserve the right to give students a “pass-plus” (100%) but this would remain the exception for outstanding posts rather than the default for everything from average to outstanding. Grades on the blogs would remain quite high but this small adjustment should both keep the blogs from raising grades too much and provide a bit more motivation to students.

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  1. January 5, 2011 at 9:19 am

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