An F is a grade that is hard to overcome emotionally, especially if the student put time and effort into an assignment. In the machine driven world in which we teach, where objectively scored bubble sheets evaluate the full extent of student learning, there is still a small dark corner of education where subjectively graded assignments can be issued, evaluated, and scored. For those who may not remember, a subjectively scored assignment is one where the teacher, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each student, grades the students work, and bases the score first on effort, then content and finally the mystical congealed years of experience in the form of an opinion.
Students in classes, online or otherwise, are generally grouped homogeneously by age, interest, or ability. However, every student is completely different in their learning styles, abilities, and commitment levels. It would be impossible, not to mention reckless, to grade straight across the board. This is the magic of teaching. Educators must understand that each student is like a tiny classroom all their own. In order for a student to be successful, it is the teacher’s responsibility to evaluate the work of a student based on the student alone and not systematically following a rubric.
One teacher taking an online class to renew their APC (Advanced Professional Certificate) worked diligently on an assignment in a Master’s level course online. The readings were posted, the assignment outlined, the rubric was set and previous student exemplars where just a click away. This teacher/student followed every instruction, leaving nothing to chance. He spent hours reviewing the material and made constant revisions to his work. Proud of his accomplishment, he posted his work a day ahead of time. He waited anxiously and finally the grades were posted. He got an F.
The Professors comments were about small errors and an issue about how exactly to post the response. But the damage was done. This teacher/student was so devastated by receiving such a grade that it completely destroyed all of his enthusiasm for the class. And even though the teacher had mentioned that re-submitting for a better grade was an option, the damage was already done. The teacher/student realized the errors he had made and corrected them in minutes and re-submitted his work. He emailed the professor and reported that that he had made the corrections but that he did not want his grade changed. He felt that keeping the grade would at least motivate him to do well in the class even though his enthusiasm for it was gone.
There is an unwritten rule that all teachers know or should know. Never give an F to a student on a subjectively graded assignment when evidence shows that the student put forth effort. Give the student an average grade and discuss what the expectations were for the assignment. A failing grade at any level of education means one of two things: the student did not care enough to follow instructions, or the student misunderstood them. Knowing which reason is critical for the success of the student, but not as damaging as arbitrarily failing a conscientious student who, knowing the effort he put forth, lost interest in the class because the professor did not understand how to grade.