Although many professors like to remind students that grades are not everything, they remain important to most of us as a benchmark for our success in and comprehension of a course. Additionally, maintaining an acceptable GPA is crucial to keeping financial aid and being able to participate in many activities.
Despite these factors, many professors at Trinity fail to provide enough information to students to track their own progress in a course. Through confusing grading policies and lack of communication, students often resort to guesswork to determine their own grade.
In doing research for this article, some opinions I found argue that professors shouldn’t have to “babysit” their students by constantly reporting grades. Others may cite this problem as another example of university students wanting to be “coddled.” Besides, every syllabus we receive contains a breakdown of how the different class grades are weighted; therefore, we should be able to calculate the total grade ourselves. However, this system falls apart when significant chunks of the grade are left a mystery.
For example, one of the most unexpectedly daunting requirements for some classes is the “participation” grade, which I have seen compose up to 20 percent of my total grade for a course. The tricky thing about participation is that it is almost never reported to you like a test or essay grade is. This makes calculating my own grade in a course almost impossible.
Other times, grades for standard assignments like tests remain shrouded in mystery when professors don’t communicate exactly how much of a curve they will be applying. Without such information, a test score of 36/50 means nothing to students trying to understand how well they are grasping important course topics.
Of course, there is always the final resort of attending office hours to ask about your grade in a class. However, in my and many of my peers’ experience, professors are not fond of being used as a human report card. They hold their office hours for discussion of difficult class topics, not simply to report averages. Expecting students to use office hours for grade inquiries is disrespectful to the time of both the professor and the students, especially around finals season when some professors’ offices have lines of people waiting to ask questions. So why are many students forced to resort to this?
Perhaps it is simply the layout of T-Learn. Many professors are not fond of the way T-Learn operates, and therefore may be unwilling to use it to post grades. Last semester, Academic Technology sent out a survey to see if T-Learn was meeting student needs, which may indicate that the university is looking at other options for Learning Management Systems, such as Blackboard, which is used by about a third of all universities in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia.
But in the meantime, professors do not have to abandon the reporting of grades altogether just because they are not fond of T-Learn. A friend of mine told me of a professor that had communicated midterm total grade updates through email. This approach would be relatively convenient for professors to adopt, since midterm season is when they must notify those who are at risk of failing the course. Sending a single grade update to all their students, or posting it on T-Learn, would inform students of how they are doing in a class, while maintaining an effective use of time.
While the reporting of grades makes it easier for students to understand their success, it also benefits professors when it comes to accountability. After receiving a final grade that was much lower than expected, a friend of mine emailed their professor asking how it had dropped so low.
After taking a look at it, it turned out the professor had switched their final exam grade with someone else’s, significantly altering the course grade. Luckily, this friend had kept track of their grades as best as they could, and the difference between their expected and actual grade was so great that they were able to notice it.
But what if it had only been a difference of half a letter grade? The mistake might have never been found, and a significant difference in GPA might never have been corrected. When professors regularly report major grades, it allows both the student and the professor to keep one another accountable.
At Trinity, we’re lucky to have a very comprehensive grade appeal process in the event of a dispute over a final grade. But a student might find it very difficult to back up an appeal if they have scant evidence to support their estimated grade. A few simple grade notifications can go a long way to ensure that both the professor and student accurately judge how well the student has mastered a course.
Asking for more communication when it comes to grades is not asking for a babysitter. Grades are a crucial part of understanding our success as students while trying to master our respective majors and minors. Without any updates, students are left wondering how they are doing until the final grade is reported.
Professors should want their students to strive for improvement wherever possible, and the best way to do so is through clear communication of how well students are meeting expectations.