More Visible Learning, NOT More Visible Grades #TTOG

Last week I went to check to see if a student had completed some assignments from earlier in the semester, and when I clicked, I saw a new panel pop up; here’s what it looks like for the Test Student:

From Chris Hofer I learned that this is a new “Student Context Card,” and my school chose to turn it on (without telling us, which is odd) when it was released last week. Canvas has invested what is clearly a lot of effort and resources in order to give us this new grade book view with information that shows me their latest graded items, ranking them compared to the rest of the class.

And I find this to be very depressing.

By emphasizing this “view” of students, Canvas shows us (the instructors, the students) that it really is all about the grades, ranking student against student. Not about the learning. Not about growth.

As I’ve documented elsewhere, I find the Canvas Gradebook to be mostly useless because I cannot include my own data fields (“Feature Request: Text Fields in the Gradebook“). In D2L, I could create little text fields to record important information about a student that I needed to remember (out with flu Weeks 3-4… needs Tuesday reminders… waiting on 2nd Portfolio story revisions… etc. etc.). Because the Canvas Gradebook refuses to let me enter information I consider important, I run my own spreadsheet outside the system. I definitely believe in analytics, but the data I need are not the grades: I need data about the whole student and about their learning process.

And that leads to my bigger concern here: by making it all about the grades, we are doing our students a huge disservice. We tell them to care about the grades as if the grades were a true representation of the learning. But we all know… if we are honest about it… that grades are a poor proxy for learning at best. And at worst, they are a huge hindrance to learning, a reward-and-punishment system that has negative consequences for many students. (Don’t believe me? Read Carol Dweck.)

To learn more and to learn better, students need FEEDBACK. Lots of it. And grades are a terrible form of feedback.

I have written about this often; here are all the posts at this blog labeled Grading, and I’ve also collected materials at, where you will find links and resources about the un-grading movement; see also the hashtag #TTOG (Teachers Throwing Out Grades) at Twitter.

Short version: I’m ALL-feedback and NO-grades. That has been my approach since I first started teaching online in 2002, and it works. How do I know it works? Because the students tell me it does: What Students Say About Un-Grading.

For information about what good feedback can and should be, check out my Feedback Resources at Diigo. Yep, that’s an RSS feed inside a Canvas page… and RSS is just one technology we could be using to bring real evidence of student learning from their own webspaces into the Canvas space.

So, instead of a dynamic whiz-bang Gradebook view of students, we instead need a dynamic whiz-bang LEARNING view that helps students and instructors see what their learning looks like and that also allows them to connect with others based on what we are all learning together. To get a sense of the dynamics of connected, visible learning in my classes, take a look at the blog hubs for Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics. Take a look at the student projects, past and present at eStorybook Central.

I’ve also proposed creating a Connected Learning Group here at Canvas; if you are interested, let me know!

To help students learn more and learn better, I need to see what they are learning. To help them in their work, I need to see their work. Not quizzes, not tests. Their work.

The work, not the grades, is what matters, and I show the students that their work matters by giving them detailed feedback about it, by creating opportunities for them to share their work with others, and by saving their work in the class archives to sustain my classes in the future.

Grades penalize mistakes… feedback helps you learn from them. That’s what we need: feedback, not grades.

Because I feel safe, I can learn from my mistakes.

A meme inspired by this infographic:

Crossposted at Canvas Community.

CanvasLIVE with Janie Ruddy: Feedback!

One of the reasons I am very motivated to do some CanvasLIVE demos is that there is a YouTube option, so it is possible to watch at YouTube later and also share with all the powerful YouTube sharing options like embedding. I could not attend Janie’s “live” presentation, I watched it later that evening with great interest. I should say GREAT interest with all-caps: feedback is, in my opinion, the single most important factor in creating a strong learning experience in any setting, not just online. So, here is a link to Janie’s presentation on YouTube: Inspire Greatness with Canvas Feedback Loops, and you can see it embedded at the bottom of this post. Plus there’s a Community Page for the event, and also a page with Feedback Resources in Canvas. If you have time to spare to watch the video, you should watch; it is very useful, focused, and easy to follow. This screenshot gives a good summary of where the presentation ends up:

The whole presentation was very thought-provoking for me because I could connect in some ways (feedback) but I’ve gone a very different direction in terms of grading. Below I’ve hit some highlights and I also included links to posts where I have written about this previously, both at this blog and in my other materials online.

UNGRADING. The biggest difference I have with the approach advocated in the presentation is that I do not grade. And that is my advice to everybody who has the freedom to make this choice: just stop grading. Give a final grade at the end of the semester if you must (I must), but do not let grading interfere with the feedback process. Grades are not just labels as Janie says several times in the presentation; grades are a system of reward and punishment, and they are fraught with all kinds of unhelpful baggage that holds students back in all kinds of ways. I’ve documented my own ungrading process here: Points-Based Grading: Cumulative, Not Punitive. And check out #TTOG at Twitter; Teachers Throwing Out Grades is a movement!

Anyway, I’ve never put grades on student work since I started teaching online back in 2002, and that means I can provide 15 years of testimony to the effectiveness of an “all-feedback-no-grading” approach. Even more important, jus listen to the students: What Students Say about Ungrading. Short version: they say it works!

I know that K-12 instructors don’t have this freedom, but many of us (even most of us?) in higher ed actually can do this type of grading. In a subjective discipline like writing, I believe it is the best way (no grades is the key to unleashing creativity), and I think it also has advantages even in disciplines where assessment can be more objective (but no less arbitrary).

UNGRADING IN CANVAS. The way I take myself completely out of the grading process and put the students in charge of their own grade is to associate a checklist (not a subjective rubric; just a simple checklist) with every assignment, and then I create a true-false quiz with the checklist as the “question” in the Gradebook. When they answer true to the checklist question, the points go into the Gradebook automatically. I call these Gradebook Declarations, and I’ve written up all the details here: Points-Based Grading: Student Gradebook Declarations. This has a lot in common with Janie’s quizzes-for-feedback, but it goes farther and turns this into the grading procedure for the class.

I also discovered a useful quiz question hack that I use so that I can make changes to a question that recurs week to week and not have to edit every question instance separately (thank goodness! otherwise, the sheer tedium of updating all question instances would inhibit me from tinkering with the checklists to improve their clarity and usefulness, which is something I am now free to do).

GROWTH MINDSET. While I have never graded, it was only in Fall 2015 that I started using Dweck’s growth mindset in my classes, and the results have been amazing. The students have always liked my ungrading system, but they did not really have a narrative of self-directed learning … and now they do! I should write up a post about all the ways I weave growth mindset into my classes, but let me share here just how I get the students started with that: Week 1 Growth Mindset. You can also see the blog posts they write about growth mindset both in the first week and in optional posts later on here: Growth Mindset blog posts.

GROWTH MINDSET CATS. Okay, they may seem silly at first, but the Growth Mindset Cats have turned out to be a huge success with the students. I’ve written up a post at this blog about the power of the random cats. And since writing that post in October, I’ve created a Canvas Javascript Widget with Random Growth Mindset Cats: anyone and everyone is welcome to use it! You can find the iframe magic code here: Growth Mindset Cats Canvas Widget. See the bottom of this post for the cat widget in action!

PEER FEEDBACK. I spend most of my time each week as an instructor giving feedback to students (I teach writing, so, that’s what I do: I have stories from 80-90 students each week to read). The bigger challenge, though, is helping the students learn how to give each other useful feedback, and also how to make good use of the feedback they receive from me and from others. Especially since they have been so grade-oriented (and grade-traumatized) over their years of school, this is not an easy task! In Week 2 I start by sharing with them some useful articles on giving and receiving feedback which they read; then they share their thoughts: Thoughts about Feedback.

New Randomizer Idea. One idea I got while watching Janie’s video was to create a randomizer for the feedback articles I share with students; that would actually be better than the system I use now where I give them a list. Randomizers are more fun than lists, and I have lots more articles than appear in the list for the assignment, so a randomizer would let me share more of those articles with the students.

… and that’s all for now! I know this is more a post just about teaching philosophy and strategies; since I prefer to keep myself OUT of Gradebook and grading, I don’t use any of those Canvas Gradebook or Mastery tools with my students — their grade in the class is between them and the computer; I just keep an eye on total points to see who is struggling so that I can intervene accordingly. Still, I hope that some of these materials can be useful for people who are using a feedback-driven process that takes place in the Canvas grading tools.

Meanwhile, it was so nice to get to watch a CanvasLIVE presentation on a topic that is of great interest to me and of great importance in the whole teaching endeavor; I’m looking forward to more events… including events like this one where I can’t make it live but can catch up later. 🙂

And here’s a random cat to finish off the post (reload for more):


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Feature Request: Text Fields in Gradebook

I had a mini-crisis in Canvas this week (not being able to enter letter grades for my students: Part 1), which led to researching the many features requests at Canvas about this problem (which I collected in Part 2), and then I just had to vent about numeric grades (for which I made a meme: Part 3). I’ll finish up the series today with my thoughts about a feature request I want to propose at Canvas, and I would greatly appreciate feedback and suggestions, especially from anyone who has successfully proposed a feature request.

I’ll need to do some more research first; as an LMS minimalist, I never thought I would be making a feature request… but I want to try. Based on all the failed requests I found, I’m guessing that I will not succeed either, but at least it will be a chance to connect with others exploring better ways to grade, and I will benefit from that personally, regardless of what happens in Canvas. 🙂

Feature Request: Text Fields in the Canvas Gradebook

It would be very useful if instructors could create text fields in the Canvas Gradebook.

Text fields v. current “Notes” field. Right now, there is a Notes field, but its usefulness is limited because there is no toggle to make it visible to students. There is also only one Notes field, when what we really need is to create multiple text fields, defining a specific purpose for each one, and making each one visible to students or not based on that purpose. Finally, the Notes field is not part of the CSV import/export of the Gradebook, which makes it useless for those who want to experiment with alternative grading systems.


1. Multiple Fields. Instructors should be able to create multiple text fields, based on their specific needs. The fields can be short in length; the Notes field is available for longer entries.

2. Visibility. We should be able to make each Gradebook text field visible to students or not.

3. Export/Import. The Gradebook text fields should be part of the CSV import/export of the Gradebook as other columns are.

4. Sortability. The Gradebook text fields should be sortable in the Gradebook as the other columns are.

5. Messaging. The Gradebook text fields should be available for use in messaging students as other columns are. A simple “not empty” criterion would work, equivalent to the “haven’t submitted” option for assignment columns.

6. Searching/Filtering. If/when the Gradebook finally becomes more fully searchable and filterable on multiple columns (as I hope it will), the Gradebook text fields should be integrated with those advanced searching and filtering options.


1. Letters without numbers. Instructors could use a text field to record a letter grade or other text-based mark manually in the Gradebook without any number-based scheme. (That is what I expected to be able to do, based on my previous practice in D2L; I cannot use a Canvas grading scheme because my course is based on choices, not zeroes, and students always have a score of 100%.)

2. Complex grading/analytics. Instructors could use a text field to support a complex assessment system in an external spreadsheet, importing the resulting text-based mark from the spreadsheet back into the Canvas Gradebook. This would work for final grade calculation, and also for other kinds of highly customized data analysis. For example, you could set up a formula in an external spreadsheet to alert students to having missed “more than x” number of assignments in “the past x weeks,” and display a resulting text message to the student in the Gradebook via a custom text field for that purpose.

3. Student alerts. Instructors could use a text field to manually enter important information with students. For example, in D2L I used a text-based field to alert students what stage their project had reached so that they would know what they had due in any given week (my students’ project assignments vary based on their individual project schedule).

4. Fields-as-flags. Instructors could use a text field for flagging purposes. D2L offered a single on-off flag toggle that I used for different purposes at different times during the semester; a simple text field can serve the same function as a flag toggle, so the text field option would give us the equivalent of flagging.

~ ~ ~

Okay… that is my first attempt at drafting the request. I’ll do some more research and keep thinking on this, and then learn just how one goes about reviving an old feature request (I am not the first person to have made this request), and also strategize about the timing. My guess is that this would make a good winter break project!

Feedback and suggestions very welcome! I would like to do a good job with this; it’s not a challenge I expected to tackle (being an LMS minimalist), but I am excited to give it a try. My only experience is with D2L, and the D2L text fields are what gave me this idea. I would be very curious to hear from Blackboard and Moodle users what text field options are available in those Gradebooks, and I will also research that online to see what I can learn.

And to close, here is a growth mindset cat for inspiration:

Obstacles teach you to leap higher.


Update: And speaking of obstacles, when I went to submit my feature idea today, December 9, I found out that Canvas shut down the Feature ideas just two days ago. No more voting on new ideas. I am cursed! They will be announcing a new process in 2017. Well, whatever it is, I hope I will be able to move forward with this; they said to go ahead and submit new ideas for commenting, so that’s somethign at least. I’ll do that! You can read more here: Changes Coming to Canvas Community Feature Ideas.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

The Tyranny of the Percentage: Part 3

I learned a lot when I explored the Canvas feature requests related to the inflexible Canvas Gradebook which offers numeric grading only (see yesterday’s post). Tomorrow I’ll strategize about how I might be able to re-open one of those feature requests; in this post, though, I want to share some of my thoughts about the evils of grading on a 0-100 scale. I am opposed to any kind of grading (I vote for feedback, not grading), but the percentage scale strikes me as especially harmful. Here’s why:

It promotes a false sense of accuracy. When you see a numeric grade like “87” (or, even worse, “87.3” … decimals!), the number gives the impression of scientific accuracy, but that is only a faux accuracy. Unlike real measurements that are based on a scientific standard (temperature, time, etc.), there is no standard for numeric grades beyond the assessment instrument itself. An “87” on Mrs. Cathcart’s French quiz last Tuesday has nothing at all to do with an “87” on Mr. Diggory’s spelling test last Friday.

It promotes a false sense of precision. Just as numeric grades pretend to be accurate, they also pretend to be precise, when they are not precise at all. Sometimes that imprecision is because the grading process itself is subjective, but even for “objective” assessments, we all know student performance can be highly variable from one iteration to another; just ask the student who had a migraine on the day of a test, etc.

It makes trivial differences seem real. Grouping students as “A” or “B” or “C” students is bad enough (my school has no pluses and minuses, thank goodness; so at least we are keeping the absurd herding to a minimum), but pretending that a student with a grade of 87 is “better” than a student with a grade of 86 is just silly. Students know this, which is why they are so quick to complain (understandably) about receiving a B for an 89 as opposed to an A for a 90. 

It promotes the illusion of perfection. In my opinion, perfectionism is one of the biggest pitfalls in academic life, and there is nothing like a 100-point scale to promote that dangerous illusion of a “perfect score” (and I say that as a recovering perfectionist). For more on growth mindset versus perfectionism, check out Carol Dweck’s great talk on this topic: On Being Perfect.

Numbers are poor quality feedback. As I mentioned above, I believe in feedback, not grading. A number scale might make a student feel good or bad (even very good or very bad), but the number itself is useless as feedback, positive or negative; it does not communicate to the student what to do next to improve and extend their learning.

The curse of “100” has been with us for a long time (see A History of Grading by Mark Durm and The Case Against Percentage Grades by Thomas R. Guskey), and I have no doubt that it will be with us a long time to come.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.


The Tyranny of the Percentage: Part 2

So, I’m still kind of in shock at this nothing-but-numbers approach to grading in Canvas (see yesterday’s post). To make sure I understand things correctly I re-read this archived/failed feature request: Allow Grading Schemes where Range is based on points not percentage. The commenters note that this problem is part of a more general failure in Canvas: the lack of variability in setting grading schemes. That conversation led me to another archived/failed request: Can’t a letter grade just be a letter grade? And as I follow this White Rabbit through the various twists and turns, I see that this is a long-standing — very long-standing — problem with Canvas.

The conversation at Can’t a letter grade just be a letter grade? expresses many of my same concerns about the tyranny of percentages and number-grading only: even if you set up a scheme that assigns letters, “you cannot hide the number grade” as one commenter points out, and this concern was echoed by others.

As for it being a long-standing problem, consider this comment: “Consistently since 2011, our faculty have been seeking a way to decouple letter grades from Grading Schemes and to import certain grades via .CSV only as letter grades.” That commenter provides links to a half-dozen previous attempts to request that Canvas do something about this; they go back to a previous community forum that Canvas ran in the past, so unfortunately those conversations have been lost, but you can get a sense of what they were like from the titles:


In the current Canvas Jive forum, the idea comes back again here: Allow final grade to be letter grade only and here Grades without points. And who knows: perhaps there are other instances. That is one disadvantage of the free-for-all approach to feature requests; apparently there’s not a good system for helping people explore past requests before making a new one.

Meanwhile, again and again the commenters point out the bureaucratic problems the numbers-only grading creates for them and also the way it confuses and even upsets their students. The specific details depend on the different approaches people are taking, if they curve, if they use rubrics, etc. The main takeaway is that for many different kinds of grading approaches, this Canvas limitation is a serious problem.

This general statement by one commenter sums it up pretty nicely: “Instructors simply want a “decoupled” alphanumeric column in their gradebooks that they can type just type letters into for purposes of final grades, and import of those grades into the SIS.

One person facing exactly the same problem that I face uses the same (ridiculous) workaround is apparently my only choice: “The only way I can report this information in the gradebook is to create a new assignment. Then Canvas reports the letter grade that I enter along with a numeric score that it makes up. (I’ve attached two screenshots–one in which the letter grade “assignment” was worth 1 point, one in which it was worth 0 points.) The numeric score is meaningless. It would be a lot less confusing if the gradebook just showed the letter grade without any numbers attached.”

Entering meaningless numbers simply in order to generate the display of a letter grade is exactly what I refuse to do.

I have a lot to say about this myself, which I will save for a separate post later today. For now, I will let this post stand for now as documentation of the discussion trail at Canvas.

And as soon as I finish my follow-up post, I will begin the process of resubmitting this request, and I will contact every interested person I can find in order to see if we can (finally) manage to do something about it.

Maybe I will fail, like those before me, but I have to at least try:

I can accept failure; I can’t accept NOT trying.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

The Tyranny of the Percentage: Part 1

Last week, I wrote about how pleased I was that Canvas allowed me to have true blanks in the Canvas Gradebook so that my students do not see zeroes. They only see the assignments they have completed, and their total points accumulate assignment by assignment. Because there are no zeroes, the percentage is always 100%. And that’s just how I want things to be.

So… imagine my surprise this morning when I tried to display my students’ final grade in the Canvas Gradebook. The class is over this Friday at noon, and many students have the points they need to be done with the class. So, I’d like to have their final grade display in Canvas, in addition to their total points.

But as it turns out, this is impossible.


Because Canvas only supports percentage-based grading schemes. You know, the arbitrary absurdity that declares 90% and above to be an A. Or maybe 93% and above is an A, if you’re being “rigorous.” Or maybe 94% is an A. If you’re being really “rigorous” (yes, those are snark quotes).  Here is what I see when I try to add my grading scheme to the system:


That’s it: percentages. Only percentages.

I was thinking maybe I was just missing some obvious points-based menu, but when I asked the Canvas support team at my school, they could not think of any way for me to use my points-based grade scheme in Canvas. What they told me to do was to convert my points to percentages based on total points, but I cannot do that: my students choose what assignments to complete (or not), and their percentage is always 100% … which is why I liked having all those blanks in the Gradebook to begin with. I repeat: choices, not zeroes.

I’m still hoping I’m wrong (Canvas gurus, please enlighten me!), and I’ll take some more time tomorrow to research this (hence the “Part 1” in the title of this post). But this archived feature request seems to confirm the worst: Currently, you can only setup a Grading Scheme by setting the Ranges as percentages.


So, I hope that somehow I am wrong… but if I am not wrong, you can believe I will have a lot to say about this in Part 2! 🙂

Growth mindset cats break through the barriers.


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Points-Based Grading: Choices, not Zeroes

As I explained in yesterday’s post, the Canvas quiz system is not very congenial to my points-based system with student Declarations of work completed, but I am happy with my work-around: Canvas Hack: Repeated Quiz Content. What I want to write about today is one way in which the Canvas system really does suit me, and that is the way that a “blank” in the Canvas Gradebook is exactly that: a blank… and not a zero.

For me, blanks-not-zeroes is just what I need, and it is a big improvement on D2L for my approach to grading. Each week students have a long list of activities to choose from, and every assignment they complete brings them that much closer to their final destination. Their points accumulate, and their percentage total is always 100%. The grade is based on points, not a percent. Students get credit for the work they choose to complete, and it really is a choice. There is no penalty for assignments they choose not to do. There are no zeroes.

Of course, many people do not use a system based on student choice. Instead, the grade is based on a fixed set of assignments that all students must complete, and failure to complete an assignment is a zero that brings down the grade. When people realized this around midterm time at my school, there was a rush to inform people about this difference between Canvas and D2L (which we used until this year). Here is one of the messages we received telling us that we needed to enter zeroes manually: In Canvas, you *must* enter a 0 for assignments with no submission or the assignment will be dropped for that student. 


Of course, for me it is just the opposite: I say thumbs UP to the blank, and I say thumbs DOWN to the zero. That’s because I build my system on student choice, and I’ll have more to say about that in a later post.

Meanwhile, what I wanted to emphasize here is that the nitty-gritty of the LMS really does matter: is a blank just a blank, or is a blank really a zero? There are lots of possible approaches to grading and, just speaking for myself, I am glad that in Canvas the blank really is just a blank.

And now, a final take-away: the more conversations we can have about grading, both about the nitty-gritty and also about our personal philosophies, the more we can learn and grow! Share your thoughts at the OU Canvas Community or in the comments here or in your own blog or at Twitter. I’m posting with the hashtag #OUCanvasCommunity. 🙂

Learn to love the diversity.



Canvas Hack: Repeated Quiz Content

Yesterday I explained how I have “hacked” the true-false quiz format to create a Grading Declaration system so that students do their own grading: Student Gradebook DeclarationsIn today’s post, I want to explain another hack that helps me manage repeated quiz content that recurs from week to week. This hack might be useful to anyone who uses repeated quiz content from week to week for whatever reason, either in a Declaration-style system or for some other recurring purpose.

Here’s the problem: Canvas does not understand repeated content. If you have a quiz question one week and you repeat that quiz question in another week, they are completely separate entities. If I copy quizzes, Canvas doesn’t understand that they are copies; if I use the question bank, Canvas does not update existing instances when you change a question bank question. The result: if I decide to make a change (to fix an error or to make any other change), I have to go to each quiz and edit the question again, and again, and again, week by week by week. This was really frustrating for me. REALLY frustrating. I’m always trying to tinker with the language in the Declarations to make them as clear as possible and also to fix the inevitable typos, etc. Having to spend 30 minutes or more just to correct one error in one Declaration, going click-click-click through one week after another, is a terrible use of my time, not to mention the way that it introduces even more opportunities for errors to creep in. Ugh.

In D2L, I did not have this problem. The D2L question bank was no help (it did not update quizzes containing questions if the questions were later edited), but if you used the D2L “copy” feature, D2L would remember that questions had been copied one from another. So, if I created a Declaration quiz for Week 1, and then copied that to Week 2 and Week 3 and so on, D2L understood the connection. If I needed to make a change or correction later on, D2L would ask me if I wanted to apply the change to all the other instances of the question. You could say yes or no, and I always said yes, so D2L would automatically update all instances of the repeated question (if you said “no,” then D2L would sever the connection, no longer considering the questions to be the same).

My Canvas hack. So, after pondering this problem all summer, I came up with a solution, a weird solution, but it’s ended up working really well. Since Canvas refuses to let me create connected content, I decided that I would host the content remotely, and then display it via a remote-linked image, along with a link to the text for students who, for whatever reason, couldn’t read the image. You can see an example of what I did here in a Reading Declaration, one of 24 Reading Declarations that appear in each of my two classes (48 instances total per semester). 


As you can see, the content of the Canvas quiz question is an image which is remote-hosted (image file) and displays as part of the quiz, along with a link to the quiz text (text file). This exact same remote image and link appears in each Declaration, week by week, matching the assignment instructions. Even better: this solution works across my two classes, which makes this hack even more efficient than my D2L system (which required me to make the same changes to my two classes separately). So now, if I want to make a change to a Declaration, I just edit the assignment and update the image and the text file — presto, the new image appears in all the quizzes, and the link is the same link but it leads to the new text. I don’t even have to do anything in Canvas at all!

The magic of HTTPS. The key to making this solution work is having HTTPS webspace so that the images I use in Canvas will not be blocked out according to the mixed-content rules which require that remote linked images come via HTTPS. I am so lucky that the Domain of One’s Own project at my school, powered by Reclaim Hosting, gives me access to HTTPS webspace. That’s also the key to making my javascripts run in Canvas; I’ve written about that here: New Countdown Widget on Homepage.

Final thoughts. So, I am really pleased with this solution… but the failure of Canvas to support quiz content reuse is very frustrating. One of the boons of digital content is distributed content for effective editing and reuse, but the folks at Canvas don’t seem to have figured that out. They could take a lesson from D2L in this regard: the way D2L handled quiz question reuse was not ideal, but it was far (FAR) better than the lack of support for quiz question reuse in Canvas.

Of course, this quiz question conundrum is part of a much larger problem with content reuse, as I explained here: Open Content: Resources, not Courses. Digital tools should encourage us to review and improve our work, and also to distribute it widely, sharing with others. Unfortunately, the Canvas approach does not encourage you to improve and reuse content; just the opposite: it creates a burden that can discourage people from reviewing and improving, deterred by the click-click-click of mindlessly having to do the work of the machine ourselves.

This growth mindset cat is ready to review and improve! 🙂



Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.


Points-Based Grading: Student Gradebook Declarations

I gave an overview of my grading system in yesterday’s post: Points-Based Grading: Cumulative, Not Punitive]. Today I want to explain the specific way that I take myself out of the grading loop: Gradebook Declarations. These are “quizzes” that consist of a single true-false question where students declare their completed work. They declare all their work for the class this way; I do no grading of any kind.

How Declarations work. The Declarations vary from assignment to assignment, and they usually contain some kind of checklist, short or long depending on how elaborate the assignment is. Here’s a typical Declaration (text):

This is the “question” (the only question) that appears in the quiz, and when students answer “true” (which is the “correct” answer to the question), the points for the assignment then appear in the Gradebook. It’s between the students and Canvas; it’s not about me, except insofar as I design the classes to begin with (for more about the classes, visit: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics, which are my open Canvas classes).

I set up all the assignments in my classes with Declarations, although of course it would also be possible to use this approach for just some assignments in a class, but not all of them. My guess is that at least a few assignments in every class could use a system like this, which is why I am always eager to tell people about it. See what you think after you read through the details below:

Some history. I’ve used a points-based grading system since I first started teaching online (back in 2002), I would record the points for the students in the LMS Gradebook, but this was not a good approach. The students didn’t like having to wait, I found the process incredibly tedious, and it was not a good use of my time; instead of recording points, what I really wanted and needed to do was to give students useful, substantial feedback on their work that they could use to improve future performance. Plus, my email inbox was a nightmare, filled with notes from the students about the work they had completed. After about a year, it hit me: I could let the students record their own work. That made the students happy, and it made me happy too!

Advantages. Here are just some of the advantages of the Declaration system:

Students get their points immediately. Students don’t have to wait, and they can see their points accumulating assignment by assignment. For some students, this is highly motivating. I provide a Grading Chart for students who want to make sure they are on track for the grade they want to receive in the class.

Students can see exactly what is required. I am guilty of writing lengthy instructions for assignments (for example, here are the instructions for the reading assignment cited above). The Declarations, however, are very concise. For students who might have missed something important in the assignment, reading the Declaration gives them a final chance to check their work for completeness.

Students take responsibility for their work. It is not up to me to check that each assignment is complete; that is 100% up to the students. Being able to take responsibility for your own work is a crucial life skill, something every student will need to be able to do in their future professional lives.

The Declaration checklists are objective. The items in each Declaration checklist are easy for students to evaluate; there is nothing subjective about them. I far prefer these objective checklists to subjective rubrics (with rating scales like “effective-reasonable-adequate-limited-inadequate,” etc.). This Declaration system could be adapted for rubrics where students would rate their work and receive partial credit, but I prefer simple, objective checklists with full credit for completed assignments.

The Declaration system establishes trust. I believe that mutual trust is essential for teaching and learning. This system shows the students that I trust them to keep track of their own work. In addition, I hope that students will develop greater trust in themselves by taking on this responsibility. As one student said in a course evaluation: “The self-grading was definitely a nice feature. This class afforded me freedoms that I was not granted in any other class. I felt like I was being treated like an adult for once.” You can see more student comments on the grading system here: What Students Say.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll share a Canvas hack that I use which allows me to have the same Declaration text repeat from week to week for recurring assignments!

And for now, here’s a growth mindset cat on the subject of trust. This holds true for both students and instructors: we all need to be able to trust themselves! 🙂


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Points-Based Grading: Cumulative, Not Punitive

One of the most important discussions we should be having in higher ed right now is, in my opinion, a discussion about grading. Each instructor is going to be making their own decisions based about what is best for their own classes and their students, and we can all gain from sharing our grading practices in order to learn from each other about the many different options. I use a cumulative points-based grading system in which I remove myself from the grading process. In this post, I’ll provide an overview of that process, and then in the rest of the posts here this week, I’ll zoom in on how I implement that system in Canvas; you can use the Grading label here at the blog to see the other posts as I publish them.

For the overview, I’m reposting here a guest post I wrote for Starr Sackstein‘s Work in Progress: An Adventure in Teaching Writing blog at Ed Week. I am a huge fan of Starr Sackstein’s book Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School, so I was really glad to be able to contribute my experience to her blog! So, here is that post re-posted below, and you can find more resources about my grading practices here: I know grading is very much on students’ minds at this time of the semester… and the more we, as faculty, can share our own thoughts about that, the better solutions we will find!


I’m an instructor at the University of Oklahoma, teaching General Education courses in the Humanities. In this post, I’ll explain my (un)grading system: the students do the grading, while I focus on feedback. I developed this approach based on my students’ needs and my own belief that I can do a better job as a teacher if I take myself out of the grading loop. Here’s how it works:

My Grading Challenge. I meet all kinds of students in my classes. Many are seniors who enroll in whatever Gen. Ed. courses fit their schedule. As a result, some students are interested in the subject; others have no interest at all. Some students want an A; others just need to pass. The courses are writing-intensive, but few of the students see themselves as writers, with majors ranging from accounting to zoology and everything in-between. They might love to read, or they might see reading as a monumental chore. You get the idea: diverse students, diverse goals. So, I need a grading system that respects those differences.

The Solution: Choices and Points. Each week, students choose the assignments they want to complete. They do one or two reading assignments (there are lots of reading options to choose from), they write a story of their own, and they leave comments on other students’ work. They also work on their semester-long project. As they finish each assignment, they complete a “Declaration,” a true-false quiz consisting of a checklist. When a student answers “true,” the points go automatically into the Gradebook. I do no grading; all the points for all the assignments are recorded by the students themselves. Some students may be aiming for an A (more points), or for a B or a C (fewer points); that is all up to them — not me.

My Role: The Coach. Because I put myself outside of the grading loop, I can focus all my efforts on feedback and encouragement — on teaching, not grading. I provide detailed comments each week on the students’ writing, and the students use those comments for future revisions. The comments are not a grade; instead, they are meant to help the students become more confident and skilled as writers. The students are also coaches, commenting on each other’s work every week. We are all working on our writing, not thinking about grades.

Here are the things I like best about this approach:

1. The grades are objective. Students know exactly why they get the grade that they do: they manage the grading, and they have no grade complaints at the end of the semester. They might complain that the class is a lot of work, or they might complain about some other aspect of the class (which is good: I need their feedback!) — but there are no complaints about the grades, and that is a relief both to the students and to me.

2. The system is simple. Students do the work or not; they get the points or not — it’s that simple. At any moment of the semester, students know exactly where they stand.

3. Grades are not a judgment. Students know that they can choose to work towards an A or B or C for their own personal reasons. An “A” student is not a better student than a “C” student, and getting a “C” in the class is not a punishment. A student might decide to take a “C” for their own reasons (heavy workload in their major classes, other life commitments, unforeseen events of all kinds), which is fine. As long as students pass the class, they are making progress towards graduation — and that’s the goal!

4. There is no grade anxiety. Grades can be a terrible source of anxiety for college students (just ask them; they’ll tell you), and if grades are making students anxious, they are not going to do their best learning. Removing anxiety about grades can refocus their attention on the learning itself. That goes for teachers too: I know I am a better teacher because I don’t have to spend time worrying about grades.

5. The system promotes good time management. The assignments are meant to be completed in a single work session; some tasks might require 15-30 minutes while others might take an hour, but not more. I hope that as students see the benefits of this iterative, task-based approach, they can apply that same strategy in other classes where there might be only a few high-stakes assignments which the students must segment and schedule on their own.

Are there drawbacks to this system? Of course there are: if the grade is what goes on the transcript, students will think of the grade first and the learning second. I would far prefer to use a pass/fail grading system combined with portfolios of student work, thus highlighting the work itself, not the letter grade. Realistically speaking, though, I don’t expect to see an end to ABCDF in my lifetime. I am just glad that as a college instructor I have the freedom to design a grading system that can minimize the damage grades can do.

If you’d like to learn more about my (un)grading system, I’ve collected some materials at, including comments from my students. And if you have questions, let me know; this is an important topic that I am always glad to talk about! You can find me at Twitter (@OnlineCrsLady) or by email:

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.