“Choose Your Own Adventure” – One Professor’s Approach to Grading in Higher Education

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Heather Keller-Giltner

There are a variety of ways that grades can be determined in higher education. One instructor at Culver-Stockton College has experimented with a system has is getting rave reviews by her students.

Lecturer in Communication Heather Keller-Giltner has changed the way that many of her students view grades, and the work needed to get the good grades they want.  Described as a “Choose Your Own Adventure,” students know the necessary number of points needed to get an A, and from there students choose from numerous assignments. Each assignment range from 10 to 150 points or more.  Students are responsible for the work they do to get the points that are available.

Professor HK – as she is known to her students – was inspired to use this approach while gathering data for her Ph.D. dissertation. She describes the benefits of the system:  “I think that using methods of assessment that offer students choices and opportunities to build confidence in skills has helped students to find more motivation in the course.”

The greatest benefit I’ve seen is that students engage me more as a resource and sounding board than as a person who just grades their work.”

— Heather Keller-Giltner

Not only does the opportunity for students’ skills to be built it also, “…alters the dynamic formed between students and their instructor.”  Keller-Giltner also says that “The greatest benefit I’ve seen is that students engage me more as a resource and sounding board than as a person who just grades their work.”

While running some statistical tests Keller-Giltner did discover that in some ways the system did affect grades. “My hope in using this framework was to better engage my most at-risk students, but their grades didn’t increase significantly. The greatest changes I’ve observed grade-wise have been with ‘middle of the road’ students; the system helps them to be more motivated and do more high-quality work than with a course using typical methods of grading.”

While there are benefits in this system for students, the “Choose Your Own Adventure” system helps faculty as well.  Keller-Giltner says, “Instead of staring down a big stack of essays to grade that all discuss the same topic, I feel excited to grade students’ work because there is only a small handful for each assignment option and each student has chosen the assignments that they’re most excited to complete. Their enthusiasm really comes through in their work, which makes reading their ideas and giving them feedback really enjoyable for me.”

This interesting system of grading by letting the students have more control in what assignments they do can make higher education more enjoyable. Some students report they are tired of the same type of assignments over and over, that is when a “Choose Your Own Adventure” system can change everything.