Published on 2020/04/23

The EvoLLLution | Beyond the Rhetoric of Higher Education
Students should have the choice to be assessed by letter grading or pass/fail since they’ve been unwillingly thrown into an unfamiliar learning environment.

Having served at several institutions over my career, I have heard the buzz words from all administrations regardless of their tax status, the communities they served, or the level of degrees they awarded. They use the approved words of the day, as if issued by the Lords of Education. Within their own domains they remained the authority over all supposed intellectual things.

Who remembers, ‘paradigm shift’ from the ‘90s? How about ‘teaching across the curriculum’ from the early 2000s? My favorite has to be ‘student-centered learning,’ which still crops up every now and then, mainly from new administrators parroting their leadership as they fill out reports for boards or the Higher Learning Commission — but as hollow in depth as last weekend’s chocolate Easter bunnies. ‘Student-centered learning’ is still whispered in the hallways outside of division meetings but has rarely been embraced (supported with $) by an institution. It takes too much work. The phrase remains, but its definition and implementation continue to shrink in equal proportion to shrinking budgets, staff and faculty vacancies. Then the plague came.

We are now in crisis mode across the globe trying to deliver on the sacred promises of higher education. An institution I’m currently working with told their faculty on a Friday that all classes were going online, effective the following Monday. This is an old liberal arts college with no online programming for their full-time students. None. Zip. Nada. Many of the faculty had used the school’s Learning Management System (LMS) to post their syllabi and assignments for students to consult, but it was never used as a teaching tool.

This story isn’t unique and is that of schools across all of education today, from kindergarten to post-graduate. Students, faculty and staff are at home or somewhere other than the official brick-and-mortar–another buzzword–classroom. But the learning continues…or does it?

You–yes, you–must fight for students. Continuing with letter grading is morally wrong. This point must be brought up at division, faculty and board meetings. Students should have the choice of either receiving a traditional letter grade or simply a P (pass). With both awarding credit and meeting program requirements, one can increase the GPA but the other will not lower it.  Do not punish students for something they had nothing to do with.

Not all faculty are certified–internally or through another body–to teach online. They’re not going to understand all the technology, but most importantly they don’t know the pedagogy of teaching online. They can’t simply upload an entire term’s work and ask to students to email them if they have any questions. Most students haven’t gone through an online orientation, and were thrown into an online course that was never designed to be an online course in the first place. So, assigning grades A through F puts you on the opposite end of the ‘student-centered learning’ spectrum.

Gen Z is more than capable of texting their friends, posting on Facebook or Twitter, using WhatsApp or YouTube–but that’s not online education. Don’t confuse social media attributes and skills with online teaching and learning; they have absolutely nothing to do with each other (unless a teacher is using these tools). Have students been taught online organizational skills? How about the importance of self-motivation and how to get it?

We all know and understand the various learning styles;

  • Visual (spatial)
  • Aural (auditory-musical)
  • Verbal (linguistic)
  • Physical (kinesthetic)
  • Logical (mathematical)
  • Social (interpersonal)
  • Solitary (intrapersonal)

How can you address differences in online education with students who have never taken an online course before? We made a bold but necessary move to continue teaching and learning during these life-and-death circumstances. Our students deserve nothing less than the utmost support and understanding for their varying life situations and  online abilities.

Yes, we are all doing the best we can, and it’s greatly appreciated, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about how we are going to assess students now. To apply yesterday’s system, which was already broken and out of date, to today’s situation is not the right decision.

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