My rand ambitions are some regular blogging about some behind the scenes things Mia Zamora and I did for the recently ended paused Networked Narratives class we taught.

The cursed fog of time is descending. SLOW DOWN time, willya?

Mia suggested the idea of doing contract grading ( prefer Miriam Posner’s writeup/example) with our students, something I have not done before. I certainly like the concept of having students define the grade /intensity they will put into your course, adding some accountability their way.

In the emergent ways we ran this lass, it came to glory at the end. But here was our method.

We discussed the concept in our first class and provided our Kean students a Google Doc draft of the contract we authored. We gave them a week to add comments as suggestions. This was sent only to our registered students via Google Docs so the commenting was enabled.

While it is not as applicable, we also created an openly editable version for our open participants. I thought it would be interesting for that group to bend the idea of what grades mean. There was not much editing I can se, but Mark Corbett Wilson added a page worth of good prompt questions on what reflective writing means.

Our students left a few comments, nothing specific. I worry that the effort to get them to define the contract ends up more as a token effort. I can see trying to put it more in their hands next time around.

Mia and talked about how to collect the student’s response, email is easy, but rather messy in terms of managing. A google form seems likely a possible route, but I decided since we had it already installed in the site to use a Gravity Forms to collect the responses.

One reason is its flexibility on creating web forms, but also the way t can send notifications to the person filling out the form as well as the ones administering the site.

The form is simple -name, email, the grade they choose, and a checkbox as a method of “signing” plus an option field for questions/comments.

View of the web form for submitting a contract

Another advantage of Gravity Forms is that all the response data is saved to the site, and can be viewed, edited in WordPress.

Form data as saved inside WordPress

And I set it up to email a message to the student as an acknowledgement. Gravity Forms allows me to format it like a human message, not just a dump of form data:

Sample confirmation letter

You can get fancier with conditional email messages, like I could have a different paragraph if the grade choice was “A” vs “B” or “C”.

The thing I am less crazy about designing the contract is when it gets based on things like number of blog posts or comments per week. That turns it into a numbers game. More on that later.

When we got to that time of the semester when we talk about grades, Mia and I decided to have our students do a self assessment that would have them indicate their original grade choice, what grade the would give themselves, and a justification.

I set this up too as another Gravity Form (I triggered the original contract notification so it sent each student a copy of their original contract agreement). They had to include their contracted grade, what they thought they would give themselves, a URL for their summary blog post, and most key, and open box to explain their choice.

The self assessment form

I’m not surprised that for the most part, students gave themselves grades that matched what we thought they earned. The powerful part was the rationale box, where we really hard a lot of their experience n the class, many of them spoke of it in transformational language; several grad students mentioned finding their thesis focus.

There is still a lot of worry about the numerical details of the contract (mostly worrying about not doing the number of daily digital alchemies). We told the students that because of the emergent way the class was run, that we did important activities not reflected in that original contract; especially the in-class discussions.

I wanted to share a few quotes, but they are all private between the students and us. This bit of reflection at the end told us a lot more than the terms of the project.

I would rather be able to give a holistic overall grade rather than getting into the weeds of some kind of point performance structure, especially as students seem highly fixated on the metric approach. But what we did was at least an approach away from X points for this and Y points for that.

For anyone interested in the gravity form approach and if you use the plugin, here gravityforms-export-2017-05-30.json (replace the .txt extension with .json) for the 2 forms that you might use to modify into your own (or suitable for lining bird cages for those that remember MAD magazine)

Featured image (apparently no longer available on flickr, SAD): Wedding Contract flickr photo by lafa.pixellutions shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as

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