What Happens to Learning When Grades Aren’t an Issue?

For the past semester I have been involved in the course EDT400: Technology and Education at the University of Maine. The purpose of the class is to develop future teachers’ personal learning network in order to encourage life-long learning and to illustrate how technology can stimulate education. In the beginning of the semester we had a short discussion on grades. Professor Steele-Maley asked what would happen if he guaranteed everyone an A. The students mainly had the opinion that grades are the chief motivator in school and that if they would not be motivated to go to class if they didn’t have to. I said,

“If I were given an A I would never look at the rubric again. I would stop focusing on the little things that are requirements for “good posts” and I would not watch or read the “required reading” or pay attention in class unless it is interesting. I’d skip class if I had a test coming up or if I wanted to take an extra long lunch.

On the other hand, if I were given an A right now I would use the time that I saved from cutting out the above activities to browse more blogs that interested me. They might be on technology in education, physics or any other subject. I would comment and contact the authors and expand my network. I would spend more time on TED and watching documentaries and interviewing my professors who do research in physics education.

So yeah, a guaranteed A would be great, but I’ll get an A either way so I don’t really care. The difference will be either learning what you want me to learn or what I want to learn.”

The professor said that he doesn’t care about grades, and that he’d give an A to anybody if they wanted. For some reason I was the only one that took him up on that offer. I did exactly what I said I was going to do. I never payed attention to the first half hour of class when we talked about logistics because they didn’t matter to me. Instead I plugged into twitter, and browsed blogs and just read about things that interested me. While other students were clarifying requirements for the course I was reading blogs such as Veritasium, authored by a guy in Australia who researched how to make effective physics videos for his PhD. While other students were blogging about what they did in class that day, I was discussing the Khan Academy on The Daily Riff and Twitter. I definitely could have benefited from exploring more resources such as classroom 2.0 or social bookmarking websites but I am very happy with my growth as a teacher/learner.

My goal for my blog is to create new content. I never wanted to summarize or analyze technology because I don’t think that it would add much to the internet. What sets me apart from other people is that I have experience in business and I think logically/scientifically and I am a student. I have used this viewpoint in pieces such as Who is Responsible?, Foster a Never Quit Attitude, VLC’s in Business and Whatever You Do, Don’t Quit! Writing is difficult because it can always be improved but at some point you just need to put it out there. Looking back at some of the things I have written, some are un-focused and many could use more sources but I do think that they each provide a unique viewpoint on their various topics. The hardest part in writing academically is to limit hyperbole. The business side of me tells me to spin things in order to get the most views possible. The academic side of me tells me to limit hyperbole because it is meaningless. In How I learned Linear Algebra Without Going to Class, I was called out by a math teacher who did not believe that I had meaningful learning from watching a few videos online. He was right. I had failed to mention that the Khan Academy, while the catalyst of my learning on Linear Algebra, was just one part of my education. Without practicing problems in my textbook and working with friends, the Khan Academy would have done nothing.

My personal learning network (PLN) before this class consisted of google docs, skype, doodle, and a few other tools that I used to increase efficiency and collaborate with co-workers across New England. EDT400 showed be how to create a PLN that will allow me to continue learning throughout my career. A highlight of my PLN occurred the other day when I sat in on a Global Physics Department meeting put on by a group of physics teachers. The topic was standards based grading (SBG) and the opportunity to read/listen to amazing teachers discuss ground-breaking methods was amazing. At one point I asked the question, “Have any of you incorporated the “contract for a grade” system into SBG so that students know exactly what they need to do to receive a certain grade or would that be counter-productive?” Multiple people commented in the chat box and the collective understanding seemed to be that a rubric is necessary but any emphasis on grades is counter-productive. Technology allows for collaboration across time and space, something that is absent in education today. In normal classrooms, students receive the opinion of one professor. 

My PLN as of a few days ago can be modeled as the picture to the left, however it is constantly expanding. I have added at least five blogs to my aggregator and I now have to surf my netvibes and twitter at lunch as well as breakfast in order to keep up. As I am leaving EDT400 in two weeks I will have considerable less followers, however I am excited to continue to grow and take advantage of my PLN. Until then, I have to figure out this Moodle thing that I was supposed to be working on for the past month.

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One Response to What Happens to Learning When Grades Aren’t an Issue?

  1. An excellent reflection and final post of sorts, John. You have shown amazing creativity, self determination and growth in EDT 400. Your learning is visible in many different ways. Though you recieved an “A”, here is where I would have assessed you had you not requested a pre-grade.


    Work shows a very high level of quality throughout every aspect of the work. It shows the individual (or group) has gone well beyond what has been provided and has extended the usual ways of thinking and/or performing. Outstanding comprehension of subject matter and use of existing literature and research, and technologies. Consistently integrates critical and creative perspectives in relation to the subject material. The work shows a very high degree of engagement with the topic.

    Fine work! You are already a wise pedagogue in many ways. Read Illich, question incessantly and I hope it is a learner who has benifited from your facilitation of learning that goes on to clone that dinosaur. Perhaps one might create a magnetic fusion powered rail line to connect the cities of tomorrow, also….


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