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Grading for Enhanced Motivation and Learning

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Works in Progress: Facilitating Student Success and Inclusion

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Lizabeth T. Schlemer California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Lizabeth is a professor at Cal Poly, SLO in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. She has been teaching for 23 years and has continued to develop innovative pedagogy such as project based, flipped classroom and competency grading. Her current research examines grading and the assumptions faculty hold about students. Through the SUSTAIN SLO learning initiative she and her colleagues have been active researching transformation in higher education.

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Linda Vanasupa California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Linda Vanasupa has been a professor of materials engineering at the California Polytechnic State University since 1991. She also serves as co-director of the Center for Sustainability in Engineering at Cal Poly. Her life's work is focused on creating ways of learning, living and being that are alternatives to the industrial era solutions--alternatives that nourish ourselves, one another and the places in which we live. Her Ph.D. and M.S. degrees are in materials science and engineering from Stanford University and her B.S. degree in metallurgical engineering from the Michigan Technological University.

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One student commented, “[The grading method] makes sure the student has full mastery of the course material before they are awarded the units,” another said, “Somehow I actually learned something but wasn’t super stressed all quarter”, and finally, “Having our grade in our own hands, for once, is refreshing.” The students are referring to a grading method known as “mastery” grading. Mastery grading is a combination of defining and assessing the competencies needed and creating an opportunity for learning beyond the competencies. Instead of having students do all the work and receiving a portion of the points on each assignment with the grade being a weighted average of all the assignments, the paradigm is shifted. In this mastery grading method, students are asked to demonstrate a high level of mastery on the most important concepts in the course, a subset of the learning objectives. This demonstrated mastery usually occurs through the traditional midterm and final. The difference is that students must score at a 90% level on these tests to pass the class. This can be achieved through multiple test retake attempts. This level of mastery earns the students a “C”. In order to earn a higher grade, a student must demonstrate learning beyond the mastery level. This might include a research report or project, or it might be an additional test of more advanced topics. Mastery grading draws from concepts in “Self-Determination Theory” of motivation. Students have autonomy in their own level of learning and feel much more in control of their grade. In addition, students are motivated to prove mastery of the topics. The grading method also seems to relieve some of the stress that the typical engineering student feels.

This work-in-progress paper begins with a discussion of the theoretical foundation of the method. We describe the particular implementation of this approach in several engineering courses at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and present results of both qualitative and quantitative assessments of the impact.

Schlemer, L. T., & Vanasupa, L. (2016, June), Grading for Enhanced Motivation and Learning Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27305

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