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A Look at Ungrading, Part 2 | Social Learning Amplified

 

In part 2 of A Look at Ungrading on the Social Learning Amplified podcast, Matthew Winslow and Travis Martin continue the conversation with Eric to explore how Perusall aids in their ungraded approach, additional best practices they find useful within Perusall, and other rich ideas on changing the way they teach. 
 

Eric Mazur:

Welcome to the Social Learning Amplified podcast, the podcast that brings us candid conversations with educators who are finding new ways to engage and motivate their students inside and outside the classroom. Each episode of social learning amplified will give you real life examples and practical strategies you can put into practice in your own courses. Let's meet today's guests.

Welcome to Social Learning Amplified. I'm your host Eric Maur and our guests on the episode are Matthew Winslow and Travis Martin of Eastern Kentucky University. Matthew is Professor of Psychology and Teaching Enhancement Coordinator, and Travis is the director of the Kentucky Center for Veterans Study and first year courses administrator at Eastern Kentucky University. Thank you both for joining me again in this podcast.

Matthew Winslow:

Great to be here.

Travis Martin:

Pleasure.

Eric Mazur:

I greatly enjoyed our previous episode on ungrading. And I've been thinking a lot about ungrading and making adjustments to my own implementation of ungrading in my course, which I just kicked off two weeks ago. So our recording there was very helpful in seeding some new ideas. But originally we were connected through Perusall and our joint use of Perusall in our courses. So, I'd like to shift the subject of our discussion today a little bit and find out how your adoption of Persuall fits into the ungrading philosophy. What problems were you trying to solve when you discovered Perusall?

Travis Martin:

I'd be happy to start with that. So in our last talk, we just defined ungrading, or at least I did, in terms of any classroom activity or action or pedagogical technique that moves the emphasis away from grades and onto learning. So intrinsically motivated learning. And to me, Perusall is a really good platform for that. Because it puts the students in charge of the the rate in which they consume the knowledge as well as the methods in which they they discuss the knowledge with their peers and with their instructors in, in the platform. It gives them a way to kinda like, focus on the learning instead of the the end result. It's a journey more than a destination, so it fits really well with ungrading pedagogy.

Matthew Winslow:

Yeah, and I actually started using Perusall before I started ungrading. and so when I got into ungrading actually it was a kind of a challenge for me because Perusall has that great feature of being able to score students engagement in the readings in a very sophisticated way. And I knew that Perusall had gave me the ability to modify how that scoring worked. And so when I started ungrading I went into those settings and it was great that I could figure out how to turn off the scoring. Totally. And so students now in my classes go onto Perusall and they just interact and engage and chat and comment, and they don't really know anything about the scoring side of Perusall, and that's really wonderful for me.

Eric Mazur:

So just to get some more details on that last point, you turn off the scoring so the students don't see the scoring. Do you still look at it? A measure of students engagement?

Matthew Winslow:

Nope. I, I don't, I just let them do it on their own and I, I don't even pay any attention to it whatsoever.

Eric Mazur:

And and what about you, Travis? Is the same true for you?

Matthew Winslow:

No, I'm a bit more moderate in that regard actually. I use the threshold grading feature, and so I tell the students that there are certain parameters for which they need to meet. I give them a list of bullets and LMS such as you know, two thoughtful comments of their own reply to previously posted question that I made. And they can earn extra credit by upvoting and eventually they'll cross a threshold and get full credit. And I actually turn that down lower than what I tell them to do. And so they find that getting the credits really easy the first two weeks or so, and they end up just having conversations instead of trying to game it. And one of things I always tell'em, I just, I like to talk to my students, like adults instead of children. I was like, you'll spend more time trying to game this algorithm you would actually do in the work. And that's, that's definitely true the way I've set it up. And eventually they figure that out and they stop asking about points altogether.

Missed the part 1 of Ungrading? Listen to the episode on perusall.com/SocialLearningAmplified!

Eric Mazur:

So let me understand the thresholding, it's essentially an on or off, a pass-fail type of thing? Or is there, is there any type of gradation there?

Travis Martin:

It's a pass-fail the way I've got it set up. So, you know, I set it up to a scale of one to 10, and I say, if they meet 70% of the mark, then they'll get full credit or 80% or whatever, whatever you wanna do. I actually change it depending on the level of the course. And you know, of course you can set that up in the algorithm to where, you know, 55% is annotations and 30% is reading to the end and 10 percents up those. And so one of the things I really love the algorithm settings is that it even gives you like a little notice whenever you give them more ways than one to reach percent or to complete the assignment. And That's right. Upgrading alley, so to speak. Because we want students to find their own path to the knowledge not be directed by us through exercises and obedience. And so a little bit of a, you know, kind of guard rails to keep them on a path in my design. But you know, that's just how it works for me. And that's always how I view pedagogy. You gotta adapt the processes and procedures that work with your personality and style and content.

Eric Mazur:

Yes. So now we have one of you who's turned off the grading completely and the other who has not. I think it takes a certain amount of courage to turn off the grading completely because you have to have a trust in having, you know, your students in finding that your students have enough intrinsic motivation to, to do the reading. I'd love to hear your comments on that from both of you. If you turn off the grading completely, how sure can you be that the reading still takes place?

Matthew Winslow:

It's difficult for me to be sure that the reading takes place, and that is hard to give up that that knowledge, that certainty. But I talk to my students about benefits, right? I talk to them about what they can get out of my course, and that's what I care about, and that's what I hope they care about. So I told them very clearly, and it's easy to communicate this to them cause they understand it intuitively that the material is where they're gonna, you know, really learn about my topic. And so hopefully they are intrinsically interested in reading the material. and Perus helps, I think, make that reading the material more inter not entertaining necessarily, but more engaging more beneficial. And so I'm with Travis. I try to treat them as adults, as people who are, you know, trying to get the most out of my course, get the most for their money.

I mean, this is their opportunity. This is their money. They're paying me for this course. So it's up to them to get out my course, what they wanna get out my course and I really try not to focus on ensuring that they get a certain thing out of my course. I have the benefit of not teaching courses generally that are prerequisites for other courses. So there's no one else following me that is relying on me to teach my students anything. My classes generally aren't ones that students take and they can get out of it whatever they want. So, you know, whatever they wanna get outta my course is what I want them to get. I want them to have the freedom to choose that. And you're right, that takes a lot of trust. but that's the kinda relationship that I really want to have with students.

These are you know, adults like we are, and they're not kids. And, and it's up to them to decide what to get out of my class. And if they wanna get a ton out of my class, they can really dive in. And if, you know, if not, or if they've got some of the things that are happening in their life that are more of a priority right? Then I want them to be able to pay attention to those things just like I do in my life. And Perusall really allows me to do that.

Eric Mazur:

A a little confession here. Before we turn to Travis I, in my course, which also uses ungrading, I've not had the guts to turn off the scoring in Perusall. And, and you know, students have sort of this love/hate relationship because of the scoring in Perusall because they're so, you know, focused on scores, especially at my institution. So I haven't had the guts to do it, and now my course is a prerequisite and the students who are taking it, I'm not taking it because they're there for the learning. They are mostly there because they have to be. What about you Travis in your course? What would it take to adopt Perusall scoring?

Travis Martin:

See, I have a -

Eric Mazur:

Any scoring at all?

Travis Martin:

- you know, I have a, I have a bit of a different philosophy. I mean, I know for, from anecdotal evidence as well as, you know, the pilot that we did, the Matt's method works just as well as anyone else's that uses it at our school. For me though, like I, I've implemented Perus in two, two large programs, or one large program, one small program. Our first year seminar program, which is about 21st semester freshmen, largely from disadvantaged backgrounds 120 courses full of them. And then the Veteran Studies program, which is much smart, much smaller. And so for me, like I, my my thinking is that with the freshmen especially, and they fill both of those classes, they're coming in that with, you know, 18 years or, you know, 15 years or so of indoctrination about transactional education mindsets. And so I don't want to just throw them in, you know, into the deep end and say, okay, do whatever you want, because they've been taught their entire lives to not do what they want, but to do what the teacher wants.

And so my worry has always been that they really haven't developed that sense of intrinsic motivation yet about school. And so, you know, whether or not I'm right about that in every case is not even a question. I'm not, I'm sure there are many of my students that come in and would gladly have no grades and do great, but I do find that, you know, a good number of my students need those guardrails as I was calling them to stay on track. And, you know, to me, the, I think it's important the instructors stop focusing on the grades as well when you're using like threshold grades. And so every assignment I have is pass fail, and I kick it back to them if they need to improve it. There are standards that I do adhere to but they have unlimited attempts to keep improving upon their work until we run outta time together. And that's the key thing. So what I'm looking for is not meeting the threshold. I'm looking, looking for instead of the bare minimum of three comments, 12 comments. When I start seeing that repeatedly, then I know they've made that kinda shift in mindset.

Matthew Winslow:

But isn't it interesting that, that you know, here we are at Eastern Kentucky University and we have some of the poorest counties in the United States, and then some of the not great educational backgrounds of our students walking into our classes. And here you're at Harvard the best students in the nation you could possibly ever imagine. And we're both struggling with this issue of students are wanting to have points and scores because that's what they're used to. And it's interesting to hear you Eric say that you haven't been able to take the plunge of taking the scores off entirely because I, I'd never been to Harvard. I don't know what Harvard students are like, but in some ways he might, Ima I might imagine that they are the most intrinsically motivated students in the world. These are students who are the best learners possible that we could ever imagine. And, and yet they walk into your class and they are looking for those points in scores, just like our students are.

Eric Mazur:

Well, you know, here's the reality. How do you think they got into Harvard? Right? They got into Harvard partially because of a selection that is very heavily weighted towards scores. So you know, in a sense, it, and, and you know how competitive it is to be, to get into the top universities and colleges in the United States. So, so the whole process of, you know, getting them into Harvard has been based on numerical. Well, you know, fortunately we interview applicants too, but, but a very big part of the entire application process for competitive schools in the United States is based on on numerical scores. And so I think that and I think it was you Travis who pointed that out, you know, these students have gone through 12 years of elementary and middle and high school education where this whole idea of, you know, it's a score that matters, has been ingrained in them.

And I think we touched on that briefly last time. We should really start with ungrading in kindergarten and then maintain it. I mean, you look at young children and they're completely intrinsically motivated, and then we beat that intrinsic motivation outta them, and it goes through school and then maybe college, maybe even graduate school, mostly extrinsically motivated, and it's only later in life that you rediscovered the beauty of intrinsically motivated learning.

But anyway, let's, let's turn back to to Perusall. And I would love to hear from you what other best practices you have developed for the use of Perusall in your classroom, not necessarily tied to to ungrading. So maybe we'll start with Matt and then go to Travis.

Matthew Winslow:

Yeah. My, my favorite thing to do with Perusall is to put my syllabus on Perusall. So the first day of class going through the syllabus is something that I used to do, but I don't do anymore because the syllabus is on Perusall. And students can get in there and they wanna know what the course is and how the course is gonna work and all the rest. But when they look at it on perusal and they see comments from other students it's, it's such a great way to introduce them to not just the course, but to each other as well as to Perusall. It's such a, I love doing that. And also on the syllabus, it talks about that we're gonna use Perusall also. It's a really a meta activity. But I also talk about ungrading in my syllabus, and I get a ton of comments from students about ungrading in the syllabus on Perusall.

And so they have this huge conversation sometimes even before we even meet in person. If it's an in- person class, and if it's an online class, then of course that's really where the course is. And they really have an incredible conversation about the syllabus. And when I started teaching online one of the things that people told me to do was to have a syllabus quiz, right? This is how you get the students to the syllabus, is you create a quiz about the syllabus that forces them to read the syllabus and then answer a bunch of questions. And I did that for a while, but now of course I don't do that cause I don't wanna have grading. So, but putting it on Perusall is such a great thing. It's a great introduction and it's a great way to kick off course. And so that's my best practice.

Eric Mazur:

So what do you do then, with all the information that comes back to you? Do you actually make changes to the syllabus? Do you discuss parts of the syllabus that the students find very controversial in class? Or is it just, you know an opportunity for the students to interact about the syllabus and that's it?

Matthew Winslow:

No, one of the, another feature of Perusall that I really love, thank you for your tech designers who've done this, is it's easy to copy and paste comments from Perusall and paste them into another document. So I have in the past taken their comments for an in-person class, for example, and put their comments up on, you know, a projector and said, okay, let's, this is what, you know Susan said, or John said and this is a great comment and here's a great conversation. And so we, we have a conversation about that, that I definitely bring up comments during class, but I also go into Perusall and I respond to them in Perusall. I mean, I just love having conversations, and again, thank you to the designers for allowing us to @ people, and so you can really alert them to, I'm responding to your comment. And so I love doing that, and we do that a lot in the first week of class.

Eric Mazur:

Travis, what about you?

Travis Martin:

Yeah, I'll say two shorter ones. So one from an administrative perspective in our first year courses program is the need to have a consistent curriculum across the university. We need all of our students to know about the resources, and there's, there's no variation in what those resources are, but a lot of our teachers that teach these courses are doing it as like an adjunct responsibility or something. And so they have very little time to connect with their students and make those, those connections that are important to, to retention. And so I'm able to create their Perusall course for them in a, in a master course that can be copied with like three clicks. And so I can take care of that in the summer in a day and save a 20 instructors, you know, an hour or two of work.

And I think that's pretty good cost benefit thing right there. On a personal level, one thing, this is recent, so I'm not gonna pretend like I'm a master on this, but I've been redesigning one of our online eCampus courses over the summer, and I've been working with some of the new features that you all have released. And so I've been previously I only used readings, and so now I'm using readings and videos and audio. And I've also noted that there's a new quiz feature. And rather than using a quiz to test knowledge, I'd like to do a quiz to preview the content. You know, ask them what they know about it before you start to kinda get that metacognitive work going in terms of knowing what you know. And so if I can have just like a five questions at the beginning in the library that I can add to the assignment that leads into the video or leads into the reading, that can really go a long way, I think in prepping them for the knowledge they're about to, to take in.

Eric Mazur:

Well, we're nearing the end here of our lot of time, but I would like to ask one short question. If you were to meet one of your colleagues who is not yet using ungrading, is not really using Perusall, what would your, and but as considering it and asking for your advice, what advice would you give that colleague?

Travis Martin:

You're not going to get in trouble.

Matthew Winslow & Eric Mazur:

<laugh>

Travis Martin:

I'm serious. The students think the same. The teachers think that the power system that's in place is gonna come down on them if they don't adhere to the grading system, when in fact, Matt and I have worked as high as the provost level and even the president level getting the blessing to work with ungraded stuff. And Perusall has been a very you know, welcomed addition to our book rollout program that we have. So it's, it's very much both ungrading and Perusall are appreciated on administrative level. I was surprised about.

Matthew Winslow:

Yeah, and, and I would say in terms of ungrading that, that nature of trust, that trusting relationship is is so rewarding. And, and students give it right back to you they're so appreciative when they really understand it and they believe that you're really gonna trust them. and it's a real thing. It's not a trick. They give it right back to you. And it's just changes the nature of my relationship with my students. I can't tell you how many times I've said to my students just this semester when they've emailed me, I've said to them, please don't worry about our course. Please focus on your health or whatever. It's, they're emailing me about worry about that first and then come back to our course when you're able. And that is, it's just such a different kind of relationship. and so I think that's the best thing or one of the best things about ungrading. And as far as I've been evangelizing Perusall for a number of years now at EKU and I tell people that I've never had the relationship, never had the experience of reading at the same time as someone else. And that is that's really a game changer when you can read it at the same time essentially as another person and answer the questions and hear their questions and ask them questions. It's, I think it's a spectacular.

Eric Mazur:

Well, that's just wonderful. Changing the game is what we're all about. And I think our last two conversations have been really, you know, full of rich ideas about about changing the approach to teaching. So I want to thank you for listening and thank you to our guests, Matthew and Travis. You can find our podcast and more perusall.com. Please subscribe to join us on our next episode.

Social Learning Amplified is sponsored by Perusall, the social learning platform that motivates students by increasing engagement, driving collaboration, and building community through your favorite course content. To learn more, join us at one of our introductory webinars. Visit Perusall.com to learn more and register.

 

 

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