This blog was started as my reflections on the 2011 Change MOOC. It is now an on going journal of my thoughts on Higher Education, specifically teaching Biology.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Grade Focused v. Learning Focused

Currently, I am participating in the BONKOPEN MOOC.  This weeks discussion of R2D2 (Read, Reflect, Display, Do) got me thinking about some of the issues that came up with my course redesign in biology (GOALS).  My students worked through concepts, wrote about what they learned, reflected on what they learned,...they WORKED.  One of the biggest stumbling block though was getting the students to realize that their work was not about the grade at the end, but the learning opportunity. 

Apart from the grumbling, many of the students admitted that they actually learned.  Some didn't believe that they had learned anything, then they saw their comprehensive final.  After the surprise abated, they looked at me and admitted that all the writing had put something in their head (i.e., they had learned).

What is surprising is that most of these same students would spend hours learning about something that "interested" them.  They would look things up, explore, read, etc....  When I asked if they were interested in biology, many of them said, YES.  When I asked if they independently studied biology, they said....wait for it...NO.  There is a disconnect in their mind between "academic" knowledge and what they find as interesting.

Add to this that most of our students are trained that they need to achieve a certain grade in a class, and we have a problem.  It doesn't matter if you learned a subject, only that you got an A in it.  One strange thing that happened this past semester, those students who were good "test takers" (i.e, they had learned to cramp and dump) did not excel.  They became the average student.  They did not participate in the learning opportunities, and it showed.

So my question to the general audience:  Do you want your students to be grade focused or learning focused?  How will you change your class to switch them to being learning focused?