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At the end of the semester, after the grades have been determined and released to the students, I will receive emails from multiple students appealing for higher grades.

A few years ago, my colleagues developed a large course (> 600 students) which is offered across multiple sections. They chose to adopt a "semi-closed gradebook" policy where the grades for the quizzes are released to the students, but the grades for most of the other assignments and the project are not released to the students. When I asked my colleague about why she adopted such a policy, they stated that the reason for this policy is that the class is large and she didn't want to waste time dealing with grade grubbers, i.e., students who complain that they should get a higher score for this or that assignment.

After a year, I inherited this course from her, and as the course leader for this course, I am able to make changes. In the last two years, I have maintained the "semi-closed gradebook" policy introduced by the previous course leader. However, I am wondering if I should adopt an "open gradebook" policy where the marks for every assignment are released. One benefit of such a policy is that if we make a mistake, e.g., a student submitted an assignment, but we gave the student a zero by mistake, the student can notify us of our mistake and it can be corrected. In addition, giving students some feedback about their performance in the course can help them to feel less worried and uncertain about how they are doing.

Question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of an open gradebook policy?

Response to comments

Question in comment: Do you give students other individual feedback on these assignments, and just hide the numeric grade? Or do they get no feedback on them?

In the past, we do give the students their numeric score for some of the assignments. I would like to give the students some written feedback on their assignments, however, the graders are not very motivated, and I am unsure how the logistics should work for given written feedback. For example, should the grader send an email to every student individually to give feedback, which is more than 600 students?

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    I’ve never heard of a closed gradebook policy. Open is the norm. Surely the students are unhappy. – Thomas supports Monica Jan 16 '18 at 3:09
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    Do you give students other individual feedback on these assignments, and just hide the numeric grade? Or do they get no feedback on them? – ff524 Jan 16 '18 at 3:25
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    an open book policy is required by LAW and is right of the student, I want to know what uni doesnt aloow them – SSimon Jan 16 '18 at 8:19
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    "however, the graders are not very motivated": aren't the graders TAs specifically paid to do also that work? – Massimo Ortolano Jan 16 '18 at 21:08
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    @SSimon Is it a law, or a University policy? Local of federal law? In what country? Are you sure of this? – Morgan Rodgers Jan 16 '18 at 23:19
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Case study: The biggest upwards bump I ever got in student evaluations was when I started making all course and assignment grades available on the school's digital learning management system (accessible 24/7 online by student login). Previously I'd noticed that my lowest score was in the category of "Instructor keeps me informed as to how I'm doing", and using the LMS to make all grades visible immediately fixed that.

I would argue that more transparency is always better in cases like this. It serves to clarify policies to the students, allows both sides to double-check, and reduce student anxiety (all of which are good things to model). My opinion is that this is the direction that reduces student inquiries about grades.

I have had some colleagues who argued the same "Don't release grades so students can't argue about them", and I've never understood that. The whole situation feels more tense and high-stakes. The only downside I can think of is that open grading gives somewhat less flexibility to the instructor, in that it forces them to be honest and not goose scores in either direction for extraneous reasons.

  • Is your goal to please the students? – user9646 Jan 16 '18 at 15:03
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    @NajibIdrissi I assume one of his goals is to motivate the students. – JeffE Jan 16 '18 at 15:31
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Before starting with my answer, let me say that I would never use a semi-closed gradebook in this setting. With over 600 students and multiple graders, chances are just way too high that there is a mistake. Can you really claim that you are able to enter over 600 grades into a table/system, without once skipping a line, entering it in the wrong field, etc? Can you claim the same for every last one of your graders?


Now for the answer:

You are in a classical dilemma here. On one side, you want to be a good teacher, fair to the students and giving them all constructive feedback, on the other side, you have other 600 students and not enough time/manpower to do it and to deal with all the grade grubbers.

At my department, the common way to deal with this problem is to have exact dates set for "grade grubbing". For example, say an assignment is returned graded to the students on Monday. Then you tell them that everyone who has a question about the grading should come and see you in your office on "insert date and time here". That could be right after hading it back, some days later, etc. This way, someone who got unjustly graded has a chance to speak up, but has to come see you in person for that. Thus, grade grubbers will think twice about it, because it is much harder than just writing an email.
Another important point is that grubbing at the end of the term is not possible anymore. Most grade grubbers I have encountered look at their final grade and then try to get some more points in every single project and assignment, hoping that they will add up to a better final grade. If you make clear times for every single assignment, asking for more points on that later is no longer possible.
Of course, you don't need to do all the work yourself. Your assistants could, for example, deal with the discussion with students, and only forward the cases they see as justified to you to decide.
On a side note, you should of course consider students that are not able to make it to this date, e.g. because they are sick. Here, you need to come up with a system that is still fair towards these students, while at the same time not allowing others to ask for points at any given later time they want. Possible ways to do so would include students authorizing others to speak for them, or students handing in a doctors note.

Regarding your edit:You should definitely give feedback and not only a numerical grade. Otherwise you invite lots of "why?" questions that could be avoided.
As you are grading with multiple graders, you should have some rules on where to give points, how much points to take off for what mistake, etc. Otherwise it would be nearly impossible for different graders to grade in the same way, i.e. the grading would not be fair. If you have such a guideline, then why not share it with the students after handing back the assignments? Tell them how you expected them to do it, tell them what gave points and which errors took of how many points, tell them about common errors that were made (without giving names, of course), etc. This will also reduce the number of people asking for more points. Depending on your preferences, you could either write these comments to every single student, or you could make a lecture out of it.

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    I use "if I made a mistake with a grade, you have one week from the date it's returned to ask me to check it" and you have to submit the request by email and specify in your email exactly what I graded wrong. Same effect (no grade grubbing at the end) and it's not a problem for students who can't come to office hours. – ff524 Jan 16 '18 at 14:37
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I cannot fathom a "closed" or "semi-closed" gradebook - make student grades open and accessible, and put boundaries around challenging grades that discourage the reflexive "I want more points" grubbing. Dirk's suggestions about setting deadlines for when students can come challenge grades, requiring students to come talk to you/someone in person, and sharing grading guidelines with students (preferably before the assignment is turned in) are all great.

I've also found that allowing rewrites/redos (with similar boundaries and structures - due dates, guidelines, etc.) and asking students to make the case for what grade they think they deserve (with specifics, no general "well I thought I did well" or "I made the changes you told me to, I therefore deserve an A") work really well. I promise that all 600 students will not take you up on these offers - the vast majority will not, in fact. But rewriting/redoing and having the student make the case for a particular grade reinforces what you're trying to teach in the first place, because you have to understand what you're doing in order to talk about how it's being evaluated. You're not letting them off easy with these kinds of policies either, since a real rewrite and a real argument for a given grade take real work that (bonus!) help with real learning.

  • Yes, indeed! Let the students "put their money where their mouth is"! :) And/but I'd add that this policy should (of course) be entirely clear in advance, for the same reasons. But/and, yes, this does lead to another layer of game-the-system, wherein students don't prepare for the main exam/whatever, but plan (usually inadequately) to recover everything on the "do-over". So specific numerical hedges on this are needed to discourage this... – paul garrett Mar 27 '18 at 22:13

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