Open Pedagogy and Un-grading have changed my world

Open Ed is not a one-time project. It’s a lifestyle. I’m still rather new to this lifestyle, but I can already tell it is something that will be an ongoing part of my work life. In my last post, I stated that I am trying un-grading this semester. I’m reflecting in this post about how it’s going so far.

What are the results so far?

I have observed several changes this semester that I am most thrilled about:

  1. No one has dropped from any of my courses by mid-semester. (If you are thinking about retention, you know this one is huge!)
  2. Students are showing up to class ready to learn.
  3. Students in German 101 are showing more proficiency in speaking and understanding the language than I have seen by this point in any previous semester.
  4. My students haven’t had to purchase a book for any of my courses this semester, and I am using open educational resources or those that are at no additional cost to students. Thus, they have saved thousands of dollars collectively this semester, and they all have access to all the materials we use in the courses. (I hope this also means they are able to buy food and pay their rent and other bills, but none have told me this yet. Curious? See Sara Goldrick-Rab’s book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream.

Why Open and Un-grading?

When I set out to research what had been done already in Open Ed, I discovered that Open Pedagogy and Critical Digital Pedagogy are also closely linked. I have been inspired by my colleagues who, like me, are following their dreams of higher education being intertwined in social justice. These colleagues are innovative staff and faculty working on the same campus where I teach (Keene State College), or on other campuses in the state system (University System of New Hampshire). They are also all over the U.S. and around the world.  All of these innovators inspire me and help me know that I belong to and am helping shape a community that makes empathy for our students a top priority. As a community, we are thinking especially of those who too often have to choose between buying a textbook and paying rent, going to the doctor, or having a meal. As Sean Michael Morris and Jessie Stommel have pointed out, “the work of pedagogues is necessarily political, subjective, and humane.” Right on!

What do the students have to say?

I’ve had the opportunity to talk with multiple students in my classes about how this practice is impacting them now that they’ve had time to see my methods in action. Even these conversations have been transformative for me.

I talk often with my students about my desire to foster agency in them, and by that I mean encouraging them to be empowered through their education. One of my values is that education is one thing that cannot be taken away from a person, no matter how tough things get in life.  My background in studying the Renaissance humanists like Erasmus and those who fought for better access to education in the Civil Rights Movement — both central parts of my graduate work for my M.A. in History —  can’t help but arise in my mind when I think about some powerful institutions deliberately holding people back from education so as to keep them from challenging the status quo. Paulo Friere also comes to mind.

In part of fostering agency in my students, I tell them that I’d like to meet with them individually early in the semester. These meetings can be for consultations about their submitted work, for planning larger research projects, or just to check in. I do this as an invitation, but tell them to reach out to me when they are ready. Most of my students have scheduled meetings with me already — many more than in previous semesters by mid-semester.

Some have chosen my B-contract plan, but also plan to go above and beyond and do a research project. This plan is the route to an A in all my classes this semester. Some have decided that the B is enough for them, and I respect that. I still provide opportunities for every student to advance forward, to grow in their educational time with me. What they do with that opportunity, I tell them, is up to them.

A few students who I’ll keep anonymous told me that they were not sure what to do with the B-contract plan or the self-assessments I assigned. For some students, it was about independence; they felt more motivated by knowing that it was up to them to keep track as to whether they were completing the assigned work.  On the other hand, some students wanted more direction from me; they wanted to know what I expected of them, what I wanted to see in their work, so that they could know how they could earn a good grade. I reminded them that I am resisting that model of teaching.  I pointed them to my un-grading philosophy statement and the grading proposal (their set of goals, really) that they wrote and submitted to me. These students responded positively, and I think I noticed some tension relax away. One student even told me: “I’m not sure why I’m not excessively stressed out by now, like I usually am. I figured I must be missing something.”

You’re not missing anything. It’s really your decision to do the work and achieve your goals.

And you?

Are you also exploring Open Pedagogy right now? Please leave a comment about it. I’d love to hear how it’s going so far.

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