Tag Archives: grades

I don’t need your badges

Time for a public confession.

One of my favorite parts of my hard copy of the Sunday New York Times each week is the Business section. Ordinarily this has nothing to do with my job. It’s just a brief trip into a fantasy world in which I earn real money; a chance to bump elbows with people who do.

But this week there were three articles about badges.

Exhibit A: Natasha Singer’s “Slipstream” column. This covers the online trend of virtual rewards, referred to as gamification and reminds us that there may be danger in allowing ourselves to be manipulated. There is discussion of the Twitter badge on Samsung’s site, a company called Badgeville that designs game-based sites, and the difference between virtual rewards (badges) and real ones (free airplane trips).

Exhibit B: Randall Stross’s “Digital Domain” column. This covers a medical social networking site that allows patients to ask question and doctors to post and discuss answers to those questions. There are the Paramedic Award, the Good Samaritan Award, the Louis Pasteur Award and many others.

Exhibit C: A review by Nancy Koehn of Strings Attached by Ruth Grant. From the  review:

[Grant] says that paying children to elicit certain behavior may have destructive consequences in developing character, potentially nurturing self-interest at the expense of kinder motives. “Where students work in an environment that values only extrinsic rewards for learning,” she writes, “cheating goes up.”

Right. When the rewards are extrinsic (can you say “badges” or “test scores”?), those who buy in become motivated for the reward.

I don’t work for badges. Or grades. Or external evaluations of any kind, really. Of course this meant a lot of B’s and C’s in high school and much teacher and parental hand-wringing about “underachievement”. And it meant quitting the Boy Scouts after my first year because I was uninterested in earning literal badges.

Now I’m supposed to be interested in your virtual badges?


So teachers, let’s be careful about this stuff. Best case scenario in the long term seems to be annoying kids with this stuff. Worst case scenario reduces their interest in what we’re trying to motivate them to do.

Canvas v. D2L, round 2 (Grades)

I never used to post grades on D2L. It drove my students nuts. That’s really all they expected out of an LMS (well, that and being able to find out what they missed in class, or maybe when the next assignment was due). So they found it frustrating that I didn’t use D2L for grades.

But the gradebook in D2L is cumbersome. There is a grading system and a grading scheme (see image below). Those mean different things, but I have no idea what that difference is.

Oh right. There are grade values, grade item values and grade calculations (both adjusted and not).

So one semester, my solution was that I would upload my grade book from my laptop to D2L once a week. I could avoid using the bad grade book on D2L and my students could have their grades online. Win/win, right?

Nope. The import/export features are fussy. Things have to be in just the right format or they won’t import. And D2L won’t tell you that the information didn’t import. It just omits information it finds problematic and tells you it is done with the import.

And integrating Assignments (which, recall, do not exist in D2L) with the grade book? Huge hassle. Lots of non-intuitive clicks.

So I was not at all convinced that Canvas was going to be better on this front. I figured I would use Canvas for discussions, assignments, etc. But not for grades.

And then I decided that I really should give it a shot. Because otherwise, I’ll never know. I shouldn’t assume that Canvas grade books will be as frustrating as D2L.

And you know what? It’s working out great. As so many other things in Canvas, the grade book is integrated throughout. There is a checkbox on the page where you create an assignment. Check that box and it’s entered into the grade book. Don’t check it and it’s not. Rubrics? If you want to use one, hit the “add rubric” button. It’s all there and it all works together.

Here’s what it looks like in action:

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/30329830]

So those are the pros, you say; but what are the cons?

I’ve only found two so far. They are so minor as to be laughable (but both are totally fixable by the good folks at Canvas; I’m sure they have bigger fish to fry than these, but they shouldn’t be hard).

(1) When you create a rubric, you start with two categories for each criterion (e.g. 0 and 1). To create more categories (e.g. 0 to 4), there is an awkward column-splitting interface. It would be nice if you could just type in the number of categories you wanted.

(2) There are no fractional points. My courses always used to be 100 points total for simplicity. That required using decimal numbers of points. My workaround is simple; I multiplied everything by 10. So now there’s 1000 points in the semester and I no longer have decimals.

Like I said, these are really, really minor in comparison to my complaints about D2L’s grade book.

Round 2 goes to Canvas too.

Those aren’t numbers, so don’t treat them as though they were!

So you’re a teacher. You’ve read here and there on the web and you’ve decided it’s time to go standards-based w/r/t your grading. You’re thinking a 0-4 rubric is the way to go. You’ve given names to your categories.

Maybe you think of it this way:

4 Accomplished

3 Proficient

2 Beginning

1 Struggling

0 Missing

Or some such. In any case, you’re likely thinking of both 3 and 4 as pretty good. You’d be happy if all of your students were at the 3 or 4 level on a regular basis. But 2 isn’t a train wreck; kids scoring at the 2 level are making progress, but not the kind of progress you hope for. Your students scoring at the 1 level are in trouble, but not your 2’s.

This is all going well in your classroom. The holistic scoring is focusing your assessment efforts like never before. You’re able to have more meaningful conversations with students and their parents about student progress. You no longer debate missed minus signs and whether they are worth deducting half a point or a whole point. Grade-grubbing is a thing of the past in your classroom. Etc.

And now it’s time to figure grades.

If you’re like most of us the first time around, here’s what you do…

4 is 4/4 or 100%

3 is 3/4 or 75%

2 is 2/4 or 50%

1 is 1/4 or 25%

0 is 0%

And now your proficient kids are getting C’s and your beginners are failing. What do you do about this?

You could readjust your grading scale. But really? You’re gonna tell parents that 50% is passing in your class? That’s not gonna fly in most circumstances.

No, you need to change your thinking about that rubric. That 0-4 grading scale? It’s not made up of numbers, my friend. It’s made up of categories.

Useful categories. But not numerical ones. They might just as well be:

Unicorn Accomplished

Pegasus Proficient

Thoroughbred Beginning

Pony Struggling

Quarterhorse Missing

With that perspective, let’s go back and make those fractions again…

Unicorn is Unicorn/Unicorn or 100% (I suppose)

Pegasus is Pegasus/Unicorn What percent is that?


You get the point.

You’ve got to readjust your thinking. Those aren’t numbers, so you cannot treat them as though they were. Here’s a simple way out of this pickle:

4 means accomplished. I would like to assign this score the grade of A. So each score of 4 will be worth 100% of the points available. 

3 means proficient. I would like to assign this score the grade of B. So each score of 3 will be worth 85% of the points available.

2 means beginning. I would like to assign this score the grade of C. So each score of 2 will be worth 75% of the points available.

1 means struggling. I would like to assign this score the grade of D. So each score of 1 will be worth 65% of the points available.

0 means missing. I will assign 0% of the available points to this score.

Adjust to fit (1) whatever the operative percentage scale is in your school culture, and (2) whatever correspondence you would like to create between the score and the grade. Same philosophy for 0-5 rubrics, etc.

The point is that we need to be explicit with our students and with ourselves about the meaning we intend to assign each category in our rubric, and about the meaning we intend to communicate through our grades.

Here’s what this might look like (Canvas screenshot):

A sample rubric using the system described. The assignment is worth 80 points.

But whatever you do, you’ve gotta stop treating ordinal scales as though they were ratio measurements.