Most formal learning experiences result in some sort of assessment and acknowledgement of learning outcomes, which may range from a certificate of completion to a grade on a rating scale. Whatever system is used, instructors and students benefit from clear expectations and well aligned learning objectives and assessment measures. Specifications grading is one approach that promotes a focus on achieved learning outcomes by clearly articulating expectations and the relationship between competencies and grades. This paper presents two university-level course design cases, one undergraduate and one graduate, in which a shift was made to a specifications grading system. The redesign required careful consideration of key competencies, competency indicators, mastery thresholds, and revision opportunities. At each course level there were different challenges to address, reflecting different levels of course difficulty and anticipated student maturity. Issues such as providing student feedback in a specifications system, handling situations where students challenge the system, and conversion to standard university grading scales also are discussed. Benefits included increased student self regulation and ownership of the learning and assessment processes.
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