Grading and Assignments

by Mike Gleicher on December 28, 2016

I hate grading. It’s the worst part of teaching. I like to teach, I don’t like to judge. (for a good discussion of my grading philosophy, look at the thing I wrote for the 2015 class).

But, I understand that getting a grade is part of the game when you’re a student.

Because this is a graduate class, I want to treat everyone like a grown up. I don’t want to give you extra work just so I can evaluate you. But at the same time, I need to evaluate you.

So, I will not ask you to do things just for evaluation. The activities in this class are designed because I think you will learn something by doing them. (sometimes, I am wrong, and an experimental assignment is a flop – but my intent is that every assignment should be something that you will learn from).

In fact, I am arrogant enough to believe that if you do all the activities of the class (be engaged in discussions, do the exercises, …) you will get a good grip on the foundations of visualization, and should be assessed as such.

Grading most of the assignment is hard – deciding that an assignment is better than “just meeting the requirements” tends to be subjective. And distinguishing between good and very good is hard to do consistently. If you go beyond the minimums, you will learn more – and that should be your goal. If you put a lot of time and energy into things, then your main reward will be that you will get more out of it (in terms of what you learn).

We’ll score assignments on a 70 point scale. (purposefully not tied to percentages or grade levels):

  • 0 – nothing turned in
  • 5 – something turned in late
  • 10 – something turned in, but is not acceptable
  • 15 – something (minimally) acceptable, turned in late
  • 20 – something (minimally) acceptable (barely meets requirements)
  • 25 – acceptable, but late, assignment
  • 40 – acceptable (easily meets all requirements)
  • 50 – good assignment (or better)
  • 60 – notable assignment – with a warning that scores above 50 are unreliable. There is no reliable way to subjectively split hairs amongst the upper categories. when I’ve tried to make scores above “good” students would quibble over the difference between very good and great. It could be that no one gets above 50 (if we can’t decide on a reasonable criteria), or that everyone gets 60 (if everyone exceeds our expectations).

So, if you want to know how this maps to a letter grade… It doesn’t.

To get a good grade, you need to:

  1. Be consistent – think median and quintiles, not mean. We expect that people will miss a few assignments. But if you get a low (or no) score on more than a few things, that will hurt.
  2. Really do things. Again, think “do a good job all the time” not “do a great job some of the time”.

Of course, the better the job you do at the assignments, the more you will learn. So you should want to do a great job at everything – even if it doesn’t matter for your grade. The grade is not the big reward.

How does this lead to a letter grade? Good question… we’ll be arbitrary and subjective (well, not really), but…

  • consistently acceptable gets you (at least) a B
  • consistently good gets you (at least) an AB (maybe a few “just acceptable”, very few below that) – in a grad class, I suspect that everyone should be able to do this. Note that this is about consistency – outstanding assignments don’t make up for bad ones.
  • giving As is subjective – you need to excel some how, and it’s hard to predict what this looks like. In a grad class, I would expect 1/3 to 1/2 of the people should be able to do this. I have had classes where everyone got an A. It could be that you did a lot of notable assignments. It could be that you did something that sticks in our head so we go

In the ideal case, everyone does a great job with everything – and it’s obvious that everyone deserves an A.

Each aspect of the class will be graded independently:

  • Seek and Finds
  • Initial Discussion Postings
  • Online Discussion Participation (this includes both the weekly discussions and the optional “topical” discussions)
  • In-Class Exercises and Participation
  • Design Assignments

The exact weightings will be given later.

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