How do I manage all of the grading that comes with assignment choice?
Creating assignment choice doesn’t necessarily mean that there is more grading–for instance, if you allow students to choose between writing an essay and doing a group project, but they’re only able to select one, then the assessment workload for the teaching staff will remain the same (although the work itself may be slightly more varied). But if you do create more assignments for to students to engage with, then balancing the workload can be tricky.
We do usually see that this more open style of choice means that the grading will naturally distribute itself throughout the semester - students won’t all opt to do the same assignment at the same time, so you’ll be assessing in a steady stream of individualized content rather than facing a mountain of grading on a single assignment. However, to defend against student procrastination, it may be useful to set due dates for different types of assignments throughout the term. For instance, if you allow students to write up to three short papers, make one due at the end of each month of the term, with only one submission allowed per month.
Thus far, we’ve identified the following strategies for structuring assessment in such a way that provides students regular feedback while still making it manageable for instructors:
In some disciplines auto grading is possible. For example, in programming assignments, or with multiple-choice assignments. Qualtrics (and other survey software) supports auto-grading in one type of survey that mimics a quiz. We would generally recommend these not be used as high-stakes assessments (for instance a single, multiple choice test as the final in a course), but rather as formative assessments for students to take, and retake, assessing for both of you how far along they are on learning content knowledge. This helps them maintain a sense of progress while keeping the grading burden relatively light.
We encourage you to consider opportunities for peer-feedback and peer-grading. This builds connections between students in the classroom (core to supporting belongingness and thus intrinsic motivation), and again provides a stream of in-context feedback.
It’s generally easier to grade resubmissions than it is completely new work from students. Allowing resubmissions enables students to take safe risks–they can try an assignment type they are unfamiliar with and begin by producing less-than-stellar work, that can then be iterated on until they are competent at it. We recommend declaring a minimum threshold of competency; if students don’t make a legitimate effort on a submission, they should not earn the right to re-submit it. You might also use a minimum threshold for quality in order to earn points; below a set level, students don’t earn any points towards their grade for their work - this prevents students from doing mediocre work across a large number of assignments, and achieving a high grade as a result. Assignments that can be resubmitted should be used to reduce the amount of open choice students have (selecting from 15 assignments rather than 50) while still providing the ability to practice, and recover from failure.