Should your grading patterns be public? In how much detail?

Back when I was a Brittain fellow at Georgia Tech, I was struck by the fact that students had full access to a faculty member’s grading history.  As I recall, you could look at the overall distribution of grades, but you could also break it down by course number, fall/spring/summer, maybe one or two other variables, and you could see the distribution over time.  That was a little disconcerting at first: I thought it laid an unseemly stress on the least important part of a class, without any contextualizing information.

I got over it pretty quickly.  And since the information was aggregated automatically, I seldom gave it another thought.  But I’ve been reflecting on this recently, in part because of my work on assessment and for our upcoming NEASC visit, and in part because of a general conversation about grade inflation.  Everyone knows that RateMyProfessor.com infamously asks students to rate professors’ “easiness.”

So I’m thinking about making my grading patterns publicly available on my campus homepage.  (Which I should update soon.)  Some questions:

  • Is there any reason not to do this?
  • Is there a reason not to do this, if you’re the only one doing it?
  • If the grades were available, what kinds of variables would one like to be able to plot?  (No promises: I’ll probably have to do this by hand.  But I’d like to know what people would find interesting.)
  • Do students look at faculty homepages?  I know that many students register for classes with the university portal open in one window, and RMP.com in the other–would providing this information make a dent?

I have no particular motive here.  I’d like students to be able to make informed decisions about their courses, and it seems to me that if I have information, there’s no reason to hide it.  (I’m considering putting the full text of my evaluations online, too.  [My dept.’s evaluation form doesn’t have a numerical portion.]  But since that would entail typing up the comments from the 35-40 sections I’ve taught over the past 4 years, it’s Not. Going. to Happen. this summer. )

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4 Responses to Should your grading patterns be public? In how much detail?

  1. Chuck says:

    I don’t see why this information shouldn’t be made public. Like you, of course, I was a Brittain Fellow, and my grading history certainly never caused me any specific problems. I also found that most of my students were well-informed about me as an instructor, in part because my grading history was public knowledge.

    In fact, I think posting this information can work to communicate your professionalism as an instructor to post this information.

  2. Alex says:

    As a student, this is a sort of tricky field from my perspective. of course, the average student would Use this in the same way that they use RateMyProfessor- they want to “MetaGame” the school experience, maneuvering their way through school with as little as resistance as possible. At the same time, “Open Sourcing” this aspect of your education can ( as chuck said) Communicate your professionalism. Then Again, I am just some punk student.

  3. jbj says:

    Thanks, Chuck!

    Alex–not just *some* punk student–surely the definitive punk student, right? 😉

    So, in your view, students do look up professors’ home pages?

  4. Alex says:

    Yes, I believe *the* punk student works well for me.

    In their current incarnation, I would say that (at least in my eyes) the current “home page” (referring here to the official CCSU Blurb in the departmental homepage) is severely lacking. Students want to get an idea of the person they will be interfacing with, for good or bad. RMP.com partially fufills this ( although I have, in truth, never used it, relying instead on firsthand accounts from people I know and trust. One student’s savior appears to be another student’s tormentor, and I understand how one maligned grade can deter a student’s perspective of the professor in question.) but ultimately intimate contact is more effective, and not in the “contagions of Intimacy” that some would suggest. The average student will probably do the following in this order: Check RMP, ask friends, then decide.

    I believe, as I said before, Open-sourcing your Education process will both make it better for students to learn, and another tool for students to avoid learning, although I believe it reflects better on the former and incredibly minor on the latter. The better one can see the man in front of the class is in fact a man, not some educational homonculus set there by “the administration” who is earnestly trying their best to destroy you, the better the educational process is.

    Now, *this* website is another insight to the professor-student relationship, one that I believe is lost on the majority of students. A place such as this, a “Home page Away from Home” in the students eyes could definitely help in their choice in a professor. This is all assuming that I have the grasp of an average student, which I may not…. I have heard such words out of their collective mouths that make me yearn for some sort of Judgement to come down on them. Curse my longing for interwubs and education! Curse it!

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