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I’m using this post to get my words flowing in preparation for another semester at Brooklyn College of CUNY. My research area is cognition; however, over the past decade I have mostly not taught cognition courses, especially at the undergraduate level where I taught lots of stats and research methods. Last year was the first time I got to teach an intro to cognition course two semesters in a row! Looks like I’m on a roll because I get to teach it again this semester. Additionally, I’m teaching cognition modules for separate doctoral and masters programs, so Fall 2022 is a whole lotta cognition going on.

TLDR: I’m going to try ungrading my course this semester. Should be fun.

Mood

I’m mostly done with course prep. The semester starts in two days. I’m eagerly avoiding the last bits and pieces of my syllabi, hence this post. I’m excited for what I expect will be an interesting and rewarding semester. At the same time I am still floating in mood. I need some mood extraction. What is my mood?

Instead of explicating the mood, I will point at major mood influences. I’m hoping to summon their power and redirect the energy into a Megazord like the Power Rangers would do when they confront issues of the day. The major mood influencers are eugenics and the white-washing of psychology, academic integrity, and ungrading.

Eugenics and the white-washing of psychology

I started learning more about the social, historical, and political aspects of psychology that were not incorporated into the curriculum that I was trained on. Past me didn’t realize how much of psychology was deeply rooted in eugenics and related systems of oppression. IMO, many of the roots remain buried and not widely discussed in psychology curricula. Sadly, some of the roots are still around. Learning about eugenics/psychology connections has impacted both my research and teaching outlook. In short, when considering how to approach a research or teaching project I have a voice asking “what would a eugenicist do?”, and then, just like Meatloaf, “I won’t do that.”

This summer I embarked on a long eugenics and society in general reading project. My reading list is here. All of that reading built up a strong anti-eugenics mood.

Some highlights very much worth the read for psychologists are Yakushko (2019), and Guthrie (2004). Yakushko’s “Scientific Pollyannaism” covers a wide range of disappointing and deeply problematic aspects of early to modern psychology. Guthrie’s “Even the Rat was white” should have been the default textbook on the history of psychology since it was first published in 1976.

I have already incorporated aspects of these topics into the content of my cognition course (e.g., chapters on eugenics and IQ testing). But, I have not yet really changed the structure of the course in a way that aims to deconstruct eugenics influences in the classroom. For example, I’m not interested in churning my students through testing and ranking processes inspired by eugenicists. I’d rather participate with my students in a process of engaging in the course material.

Academic integrity

At the end of May I wrote a blog post about some widespread cheating behavior that occurred in my cognition class in Fall 2021. I wrote that post as a part of a teaching assessment process and to reflect on how to do better next time. My undergrad cognition course is going into its third revision. I first taught it synchronous online (gave zoom lectures etc.), and then in Spring 2022 I taught in an asynchronous format (recorded lots of YouTube videos). A few months ago I also wrote a post about how I structured the asynchronous course with a buffet of assignment options for students, so they had many ways to get a grade they wanted to achieve. I think the second version of the course with lots of assignment choice was much better for student engagement, and fortunately I didn’t have to deal with any academic integrity issues.

I’m intending to roll over the successes from the second version into my in-person course this fall, especially all of options for assignment choice.

I’d also like to avoid major academic integrity issues. One of the outcomes of having a class where most students violated academic integrity principles was that I took a quick dive into the literature on cheating behavior in university. If you teach psychology and are interested in whether your students are cheating or not, I’d recommend reading Jenkins et al. (2022) who estimate that about 75% of students self-report cheating in psych classes. It’s a concern. There’s so many ways to cheat these days, such as paying someone else (contract cheating) to take your course for you or do your assignments (Hollis 2018). Or, getting an AI like GPT-3 to do your writing assignments.

I’d like to run a course where students would rather engage in the material than violate academic integrity issues.

Ungrading

An inspiring read this summer was an edited book on “Ungrading”, Blum (2020). Each chapter was written by different educators who discussed their own misgivings with the standard practice of grading students, and their own ways of practicing ungrading.

More recently, I thought this tweet nicely captured ungrading:

I haven’t yet tried ungrading in any of my courses, and there are lots of ways to do so. This semester will involve weaving in some ungrading practices.

Finish my syllabus

If I had to summarize my mood, it is a Megazord composed of the above influences. I hope this Megazord will bring the energy I need to update my syllabus for this semester. I’ve been finding ways to put off writing the final bits and pieces of the syllabus. And, it is clear to me that I am perilously close to having to do that work, like right now.

My closing thoughts are just me telling myself what I need to do next.

My syllabus is located here.

What do I need to do it?

  1. Update course details
  2. Update course schedule with Fall 2022 dates
  3. Re-write course assessment and grading parts, make the language around this as clear and straightforward as possible.

First Class

I think the first class went OK. At the beginning of class we brainstormed how typical undergraduate courses are structured. We suggested that many courses are 14 weeks long and involve lectures, reading textbooks, midterms and exams, maybe a written paper or two. Students thought that the final exam could be worth anywhere between 5% to 50% of their grade. I asked, “If you could delete one thing from a standard course, what would it be?” The overwhelming answer was to get rid of written papers, and the second most popular was to get rid of exams. To introduce how ungrading would work in this course, I told students I would delete one thing and then I used my dry-erase marker to cross out all of the exams in the course. Then we spent the rest of the first class going over expectations about the course and fielding questions about how ungrading would work.

This is my first time ungrading, and I’ll modify things as necessary across the course. I decided to keep close to the course structure I adopted last time. The previous structure involved weekly learning modules, lots of optional assignments to choose from to gain points toward a grade (5 points each), and midterms and a final exam. I’m scrapping the midterms and final exams, and replacing them with self-assessments for goal-setting, goal refinement, and goal evaluation. But, I am keeping all of the optional assignments and adding more. I’m also keeping the points system, but students will be responsible for self-assessing their work and recommending their own points for each assignment. All of the learning modules and assignments are posted on the LMS (Blackboard), and that system can be useful for students to keep track of what they have done or need to do next in the course.

Portfolios and Assessment

I wrote a short comment a couple years ago encouraging doctoral students to create portfolios of all of the work they do, especially work beyond publications Crump (2019). I’m using the portfolio notion in this course as well. At the end of the course students will have created a record of course engagement, in the form of a portfolio. The contents of the portfolio are various: including an attendance record, participation in class online and offline, and all of the written and creative work completed over the semester. The course offers many weekly (and alternative timeframe) assignments that students can complete to engage with learning and add to their portfolio.

I have planned for three assessments throughout the course. These replace exams that I would normally administer during those class periods. The purpose of the assessments is to support students in creating and meeting learning goals. I’m having the first assessment on the third class of the semester, the second assessment is in the middle of the semester, and the last assessment will occur during the final examination period. The first assessment will be about setting goals for the course. The second assessment will be a mid-semester “self-directed performance review” to check-in with their goals and make course corrections if necessary. The final assessment will be a retrospective and explanation about the portfolio they created across the course. I’m also planning to share the assessment forms with the class weeks in advance so that we can collaboratively edit the questions to make them more useful.

With all of this said, I need to draft a first assessment. Will report back.

First Assessment

We’re three weeks in. We did the first assessment on the third class of the semester. It was focused on setting goals for the course and beyond.

I started the assessment by showing my own faculty annual review form that I have completed each year, which includes listing out my goals from last year, and my progress toward those goals this year. We discussed how completing the assessments in this course could be helpful practice for performance review situations in job situations.

I asked the following seven questions.

  1. Identify 3 to 5 goals you have for after your degree
  2. Identify 3 to 5 goals you have while you complete your degree
  3. Identify 3 to 5 goals you have for this semester
  4. Identify 3 to 5 goals you have for this course.
  5. What skills do you want to improve on in this course?
  6. What are your stretch goals? These, are things you would try to accomplish if you find the time and energy to do these goals in this course, this semester.
  7. What grade do you want at the end of this course?

For each question students spent a few minutes writing down goals, and then we broke into various forms of class discussion about their goals. This allowed a chance for students to share their goals and possibly be inspired toward goals they weren’t thinking about.

We’ll check back in mid-semester with the second assessment.

References

Blum, Susan Debra. 2020. Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead). West Virginia University Press.
Crump, Matthew J. C. 2019. “Portfolio and Prosper.” Nature Human Behaviour 3 (10): 1008–8. https://doi.org/ghrnn6.
Guthrie, Robert V. 2004. Even the Rat Was White: A Historical View of Psychology. Allyn; Bacon.
Hollis, Leah P. 2018. “Ghost-Students and the New Wave of Online Cheating for Community College Students.” New Directions for Community Colleges 2018 (183): 2534. https://doi.org/10.1002/cc.20314.
Jenkins, Baylee D., Jonathan M. Golding, Alexis M. Le Grand, Mary M. Levi, and Andrea M. Pals. 2022. “When Opportunity Knocks: College Students Cheating Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Teaching of Psychology, February, 009862832110590. https://doi.org/10.1177/00986283211059067.
Yakushko, Oksana. 2019. Scientific Pollyannaism: From Inquisition to Positive Psychology. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-15982-5.