Philosophy on Class Activities and Grading

by Mike Gleicher on January 16, 2015

This is some background on why I am making the course the way it is. It hopefully explains why the policies are the way they are, and gives you a sense of “the spirit of the law.”

My goal in this class is to provide you with a set of experiences that will help you develop you understanding of, and abilities in, Data Visualization (and related broader context – like being a good scientist).

My goal is: Everything I ask you to do is because I believe that the experience of doing it will benefit you (and be worth the effort you to put in).

Ideally, there is no “busywork” – everything you do is because I believe that you (or at least the majority of students) will get something out of the experience. For all activities, I will try to help you understand why you are doing it (stating the objectices) – although sometimes I may not have the time to state them, and sometimes, telling you the outcome ahead of time might change how you view the assignment.

Over the semester, I may need to make some concessions to the “no-busywork” goal, as we have other constraints.

  • We need to do things to make sure the class runs smoothly.
  • We need to do things to make the class practical.
  • We need to be able to assess that you did learn enough (to give you credit) and how well/much you learned (to give you a grade). The need to certify/assess is a bit of a pain, but its part of the University’s job.
  • I am experimenting with what activities will actually create these learning experiences.

These things aren’t necessarily contrary to the primary goal (the student’s learning). For example, if the class doesn’t run smoothly, it will be harder for you to have the experiences that you will learn from. Or, an experimental in-class design exercise might teach you a ton, or turn out to flop (we need to take those risks).

In a smaller class, fewer concessions to the experiential goals need to be made: we can have discussions, and the course staff can get to know everyone well enough that we can do fair evaluation subjectively. I’ve run lots of successful smaller classes.

This semester, we can’t do that. We can’t have discussions with 90 people. (if everyone had 1 minute, we wouldn’t fit in a class period). And I am trying to experiment with how I can create the same experiences we provide in the smaller class to a bigger class. Bear with me as I experiment. Some of this involves using technology which has a learning curve for both of us, and will require you to do many things “online” (typing them in rather than just talking about them).

Also, I am questioning the effectiveness of the traditional “monologue lecture” class style. I believe that people can get a lot out of watching me lecture for 75 minutes. But I am not sure this is the most effective use of student time.

So, that’s a long winded way of saying…

  1. The activities in this class really are meant to give you the right learning experiences.
  2. I really am trying to minimize the busywork, so we can do #1
  3. Please be patient with the experiments (especially the technology)
  4. Yes, some of the technology will make extra work for you – but hopefully it will pay off by making things run more smoothly
  5. Yes, I really think you should do all of the class activities.

Grading, Evaluation

Having to assign grades is one of the least enjoyable parts of teaching for me. I would like to educate students – not judge or certify or assess.

My goal is to assess your command of the material. I will try very hard not to assess your unrelated skills (for example, your artistic skill). Unfortunately, directly measuring your command of the material is hard.

For many (most?) class activities, it is difficult to assess how well you did it. So we will mainly keep track of “did you do it”. (e.g. most things will be more or less graded “check/no check”). This isn’t just a case of the famous adage “80% of success is showing up” (see for a discussion of where it came from). The logic is that we think these activities are important enough that just by doing them, you can’t help but get something out of them.

This means you really do need to do all the assignments and in-class activities because we’re counting! And it means you’ll need to bear with the technology we use to keep track of these things.

This means you need to show up to class! Because if you don’t, you’ll miss out on in-class activities. And you can’t make some things up – if you miss a class experience/activity, you’ve missed it.

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