I was prepared. I was ready for almost any student argument. I had thoroughly thought through how I would “sell” ungrading to my Organic Chemistry II students.
And then the first day happened. It was yet another reminder that we’re never truly ready for new pedagogical implementations, no matter how ready we think we are.
The plan was to discuss career trajectories and how the skills learned in this class would help students move closer to the life goals that they were attending college classes to achieve. Then relate how the skills they would build in ungrading would contribute to this life goal skill set. So, I began with some discussion questions that the students would answer in partner pairs:
Once they had answered the discussion questions in pairs and had written down their answers (so that they “owned” the outcome), we talked about what companies want (i.e. competencies) and how company managers perceive their recent college graduate new hires in terms of their proficiency in those competencies. The top five essential competencies (in descending order) included: professionalism/work ethic (100%), critical thinking/problem solving (99.2%), teamwork/collaboration (97.5%), oral/written communications (95.9%), and leadership (68.6%).
And then I revealed the data for the third discussion question…
Looking at the percent of employers who rated recent college graduates proficient in the competencies versus the percent of students who considered themselves proficient in those same competencies resulted in some really interesting differences in opinion. The deltas show those assessment differences, the largest of which exists for professionalism/work ethic (52.2%) and then for critical thinking/problem solving (38%), oral/written communications (37.8%), leadership (37.5%), and career management (23.6%). So, for four of the top five essential skills (as rated by employers), students rated themselves much higher in the proficiencies than their employers rated them. The closest rating between employers and students for the essential competencies was teamwork/collaboration, which still had a delta of <20%. Students consistently rated themselves much higher in their proficiency for these competencies than their employers did, with the one exception of digital technology, which happened to be the smallest delta as well.
This slide raises some really interesting questions. Why are the deltas so large? And why did employers consistently rate their new hires lower than they rated themselves, with the one exception of digital technology? And what skills could students build now that would close the deltas so that the students could more accurately assess themselves?
I had set up the argument; it felt like an easy and slow pitch. Now I just needed my students to make the connection (BUILD the self-assessment skills in class!). But my students had other ideas…
One of my students proceeded to make the argument instead that this data only shows the bias of employers against new hires. And while he had a point – according to at least one survey the majority of Americans have basically no confidence in their bosses – this was not the connection I was looking for. After a quick acknowledgement that his argument may be true for some (or even many) but probably not true for all (which he conceded), we were already off track.
So I was forced to refocus my efforts again. I asked my students if they knew what they received on their last test in any class BEFORE they got it back. For those who worked full time, I asked my students if they knew what their manager’s assessment was going to say on their last performance review. And then I drew their laser like focus back to the topic at hand by saying the following:
I was tired of hearing from friends who were shocked by their latest performance review.
I was tired of hearing from friends who had been fired that they didn’t see it coming from a mile away.
“You should know exactly what (or close to it) your boss is going to tell you when you walk into your yearly performance review. And you should have a say in the review itself – otherwise it would be considered unfair.”
Why are grades any different?
(Wow did that work like a charm. They got it. They knew why we were doing this ungrading thing. And they bought in. Whew!)