Sunday, January 31, 2021

Grading policies during Covid-No easy answers

 Because of COVID  (my spellecheck says covid and Covid are not words, but COVID is) various schools have done various things to make school less traumatic. Students already have problems, either getting COVID or having their friends got family get it (I've had four relatives get it, and one died) . Some do not adjust to learning online.  Some do not have good computer connection to learn on line. So what is a good policy? Here are some things I have either seen schools do or heard that they might do.

1) Be more generous with Tuition-Refunds if a student has to withdraw. 

2) Be more generous with Housing-Refunds if a students comes to campus thinking it will be courses on campus and there are no courses on campus. Or if a student has to withdraw. 

3) Make the deadlines for dropping-without-a-W, or taking-it-pass-fail, later in the semester. 

4) Tell the teachers to `just teach them the bare min they need for the next course.'

5) Allow students to take courses P/F in their major and still allow them to count, so a student might get a D in Discrete Math and be able to go on in the major. 

6) How far to extend deadlines? How is this: extend deadline to make it P/F until the last day of classes (but before the final) and then after the final is given, the school changes its mind and says - OH, you can change to P/F now if you want to.

7) Allow either an absolute number (say 7) or a fraction (say 1/3) of the courses to be changed to P/F by the last day of class.

8) Combine 6 or 7 with saying NO- a D is an F for a P/F course. Perhaps only if its in the major, but that maybe hard to work out. since majors can change. Some schools do A-B-C-NO CREDIT, where the NC grade does not go into the GPA.

9) Give standard letter grades and tell the students to tough it out. Recall the following inspirational quotes

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping

When the going gets tough, the tough take a nap

If at first you don't succeed, quit. Why make a damn fool of yourself. 

If at first you don't succeed, then skydiving is not for you. 

10) Decide later in the term what to do depending on who yells the loudest. 

11) Any combination of the above that makes sense, and even some that don't. 

On the one hand, there are students who are going through very hard times because of COVID and should be given a break. On the other hand, we want to give people a good education and give grades that are meaningful (the logic of how to give grades in normal times is another issue for another blog post). 

What is your school doing? Is it working? What does it mean to be working?

The problems I am talking about are first-world problems or even champagne-problems. I know there are people who have far worse problems then getting a bad grade or dropping courses.


  1. Regarding the spelling, according to, "COVID-19 is the disease caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2." They are the ones who make up the names, so I guess they get to say how they are spelled. Or, says "Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. ... One year after the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes the disease Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) ...". So, "COVID-19" is an acronym for "Coronavirus Disease 2019".

  2. Covid is a nice opportunity for the professors to reasses the quality of their job.

    In fact, covid has changed nothing, just liberated the academic community from so many illusions they had.

    One of those is the perceived amount of time required for successfully embedding a course in a students brain.

  3. This was not mentioned in the post, but as CS undergrad I think that relying heavily on 1-2 hour synchronous exams is unfair, and a huge missed opportunity. I would really like to hear an instructor's viewpoint on this issue.

    Online synchronous exams are unfair because:

    a) It is practically impossible to prevent cheating without invading students' privacy, unlike in-person exams. [0]

    b) Each student takes the exam under different, potentially disadvantageous conditions, unlike in-person exams. (loud neighbors, poor internet etc.)

    The missed opportunity is that it is much easier to get students to participate. Coming to class means a few button clicks, and students who would normally be afraid to speak up in a large classroom can participate via written chat. I've had an instructor who encouraged discussion during class[1], and the class had more active participation than any in-person class I can remember. Participation was not even graded. [2]

    Relying heavily on synchronous online exams completely misses this opportunity.

    [0]: I've been offered, and declined, money by people to "help" them on their exams.

    [1]: He did not simply ask questions, but made discussions an integral part of the class.

    [2]: Unsurprisingly, the class did not have any synchronous exams.

  4. 1) what do you recommend we do instead of on-line sync exams? If not sync then cheating may be even worse.

    2) I make my online sync exams open-book, open-notes, open-web which alleviates some of the cheating. Caveat: I did this for crypto (a senior course) Theory of comp (a senior course) and HONORS discrete math (the students are quite good). I suspect it would be hard to make up exams with open-notes, open-book,open-web for Calc I, Prog I, or non-honors Discrete Math.

    3) The amount of active participation is hard to gauge for my online classes since I often hear voices-in-the-void. There IS a lot of chat activity that is often independent of me- students having their own discussion OF THE MATERIAL which is GREAT. I sometimes intercede if the are stuck or if I want them to pay attention to what I am saying now.

    You seem to me making two sep points:
    a) online syn exams are bad (prob correct)
    b) class discussion can be GOOD for online courses, maybe even better tan in person (prob correct)

    I don't see how these are connected.