Excellence in Teaching Day
Excellence in Teaching Day is a full-day event that brings faculty from across BC together with nationally-recognized scholars to discuss urgent questions about teaching and learning. This year Excellence in Teaching Day was held in person — with some hybrid options available — in 245 Beacon on Monday, May 8 from 9:30 - 3:30.
See breakout session recordings and materials in the 'Breakout Sessions' tab
Grading: Evaluating What We Value
When the newly-formed Center for Teaching Excellence hosted its first Excellence in Teaching Day in 2015, the moment that spurred the strongest reactions – both positive and negative – was the conclusion of Mike Wesch’s keynote. Although providing few details, Wesch sketched a compelling picture of an alternative grading approach predicated on the rule that “everybody gets up.” In other words, grades weren’t about dividing students according to performance; they were a tool meant to help every student succeed. While some were inspired by Wesch’s push to reimagine grades in order to put learners’ needs first, others objected to the time commitment required by his approach and questioned its applicability at a research university committed to rigor. Everyone was left wanting to hear more.
Now, eight years later — driven by advances in the learning sciences, greater attention to student mental health, and pandemic-fueled reconsiderations of long-held classroom norms — conversations about “ungrading” and other grading alternatives are in the mainstream of pedagogical debates. For this Excellence in Teaching Day, we engaged these calls to re-examine the values driving our systems of evaluation by digging into the current research on grading. We looked back at the history of how today’s grading norms were first constructed and interrogate emerging calls to reimagine grading systems in light of concerns about equity, student learning outcomes, and student mental health. We reflected together on which values are driving our respective grading decisions and how well our grading systems enable us to evaluate the learning we value most.
"The Call Is Coming from Inside the House: How Grades Limit Learning and Impact Student Wellbeing"
Getting a good grade is supposed to be a marker of excellence, but research shows that grades diminish our intrinsic motivation and emphasize the outcome rather than the process that leads to what researchers refer to as deep learning. Grades also mirror and magnify many of the systemic inequities that are a part of higher education. Further still, rates of anxiety and depression have spiked dramatically for teens and young adults, and academic stress tied to grades is a leading cause of this escalation.
In this keynote presentation, Joshua Eyler (Director of Faculty Development at the University of Mississippi and author of How Humans Learn) led attendees through a structured reflection exercise designed to spark our thinking about the connections between our grading practices, our values, and our beliefs about education. He then explored some of the research on grades and offered a range of strategies we can try, both in our classrooms and at the institutional level, in order to be more just in our classrooms by mitigating the damaging effects of grades.
Expert Presentation & Workshop
Courtney Sobers, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Rutgers, also joined us for ETD to provide a research presentation and facilitate a workshop on alternative approaches to grading. See full details under the “Breakouts” tab below.
The CTE is committed to providing equal access to events and programs. Below you can find some of the proactive steps we took to make Excellence in Teaching Day accessible:
- Providing hybrid access to breakout sessions and the keynote
- Making accessible materials from presenters available at last 24-hours ahead of time whenever possible
- Providing pathways for verbal and written contributions throughout the day
- Using microphones whenever they are available
- Enabling automatic captioning in Zoom for remote participants and projecting it in the room for in-person participants
- Having ASL interpreters during the keynote session for in-person and remote attendees
- Making powerstrips available in breakout session rooms
- Access to lactation rooms
9:00 a.m. Light Breakfast (245 Beacon Street, 2nd Floor Entrance)
9:30 a.m. Breakout Sessions I (245 Beacon Street)
11:00 a.m. Breakout Sessions II (245 Beacon Street)
12:30 p.m. Lunch (Lyons Dining Hall)
1:45 p.m. Keynote & Raffle (245 Beacon Street, 107 Auditorium)
3:15 p.m. Coffee & Dessert (245 Beacon Street, 107 Auditorium)
Breakout Sessions I (9:30 - 10:45)
Tara Pisani Gareau (E&ES), Heather Olins (Biology), and Celeste Wells (Communication)
The Jesuit Essentials, a working group of Professors of the Practice organized by BC’s Jesuit Institute, have been reflecting on how the many and varied teaching challenges that came with the onset of COVID forced them to rethink much about how they taught. Learning to navigate those challenges was often difficult and even painful, yet forced creativity can have its upsides, one of which was new insight into what they really needed their students to learn. In this session, members of the Jesuit Essentials group describe ways in which they reassessed how students could be evaluated on their work and knowledge. They determined that there might be more creative and humane ways to assess student learning and development. What were originally adaptations to emergency have since become welcome changes in how they continue to teach today, and this session will reflect the value of these practices.
Imagining Alternative Grading in STEM
Courtney Sobers (Rutgers) and Henry Wisniewski (Rutgers)
Before the pandemic started, Dr. Courtney Sobers recognized that traditional grading systems made life unnecessarily difficult for the students in her general chemistry lab course. These students were managing circumstances that impacted their ability to focus on their academic responsibilities, such as being the first in their family to attend college, employment, and caregiving duties. The pandemic further highlighted these disparities in privilege, motivating Dr. Sobers to increase course flexibility without compromising the student learning experience. In this research presentation, Dr. Sobers, along with Head TA Henry Wisniewski, will describe the process of moving from traditional grading to alternative grading in General Chemistry II Lab. They will discuss how the grading approach changes impacted TAs, students, and the instructor, and the conversation around grades/grading. Dr. Sobers will also discuss alternative grading in summer Organic Chemistry I and II lectures. This interactive presentation addresses concerns particular to STEM courses, but also promises to be of interest to instructors considering using alternative grading in other disciplines or non-lecture style courses.
Investing in Trauma-Informed Advising
Sue Coleman (SSW) and Kathleen Flinton (SSW)
When the School of Social Work launched a Trauma Integration Initiative, Kathleen Flinton and Sue Coleman focused their efforts on developing better ways to support students who experience trauma in their field placements, either as echoes of those students’ own trauma histories or as vicarious trauma experienced through their close work with clients. Drawing on their expertise in trauma-informed care, Flinton and Coleman developed an initiative to help advisors in SSW build and maintain boundaries and trust while creating a supportive learning environment for students during their field placements.
In this presentation, Flinton and Coleman will share the research basis for their trauma-informed advising initiative and invite participants to reflect on how a trauma-informed approach could inform their own teaching and advising practices. Although this presentation is most directly relevant to those working with students in clinical placements, it promises to raise useful questions to anyone thinking about the ways advising can better support students’ intellectual, professional, and personal growth.
Technology Innovations to Engage Students
Linda Boardman Liu (CSOM), Alejandro Olayo-Méndez, S.J. (SSW), and Erik Owens (International Studies/Theology)
The Academic Technology Advisory Board is charged with advocating for faculty concerns in all matters related to educational technology at BC. As part of that work, each year they award Academic Technology Innovation Grants (or ATIGs) to support faculty seeking to experiment with creative uses of new and existing technologies for their teaching and research. For this panel, past ATIG winners will showcase successful projects that have broadened the scope of the learning experience for students by engaging local and global communities and providing resources for faculty to pool their knowledge to streamline the teaching process. Join us to explore new ways to engage with your students and colleagues.
Breakout Sessions II (11:00 - 12:15)
Academic Integrity as Formation
Treseanne Ainsworth (MCAS), Jeff DaCosta (Biology), Andrés Castro Samayoa (LSEHD), and Ethan Sullivan (CSOM)
As educators around the country struggle with concerns about academic integrity — what it is, what its purpose is, and the effects of current principles and practices — how can we work towards a proactive framework that contributes to formative education? We’ll hear about ways Boston College faculty are designing courses and assignments, modeling scholarship and engagement with tools including ChatGPT, and communicating with students about expectations and choices. We’ll also hear from members of the Committee on Academic Integrity developing new procedures to respond to violations, about the thinking that informs the process, including a restorative justice philosophy.
Getting Started with Alternative Grading
Courtney Sobers (Rutgers) and Henry Wisniewski (Rutgers)
Bring an assessment or assignment from one of your courses and think with colleagues about how to apply a grading method that better aligns with your intentions for student learning. Facilitated by Professor Courtney Sobers, attendees will explore alternative grading approaches for a range of assessments (classroom, clinical, skilled-based, etc.). Time will also be devoted to adapting for externally defined course requirements. Head Teaching Assistant Henry Wisniewski will contribute valuable insights around how TAs can support your efforts and how TAs impact the efficacy of the grading approach. Dr. Sobers and Henry will also discuss how to manage expectations and workload for students, TAs, and instructors. Space for this workshop is limited, so we encourage everyone interested to register soon. This workshop addresses concerns particular to STEM courses, large courses, and accelerated courses, but will be of interest to all instructors who are considering alternative grading.
View the “Getting Started with Alternative Grading” recording (8 minute initial presentation)
Materials for “Getting Started with Alternative Grading” panel (as a general orientation to the materials, start with “Comparing Course Grading Approaches”)
Teaching as Scholarship
Juliana Belding (Math), Martha Hincks (English), and Avneet Hira (Engineering)
Pat Hutchings describes the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) as the work of “faculty bringing their habits and skills as scholars to their work as teachers — habits of asking questions, gathering evidence of all different kinds, drawing conclusions or raising new questions — and bringing what they learn through that to [. . .] their students’ learning and their own teaching” (2013). Similarly, Nancy Chick defines SOTL as bringing “a scholarly lens” to the classroom: “the curiosity, the inquiry, the rigor, the disciplinary variety” (2015). For this panel, we’ll hear from three BC faculty who have experimented with turning a scholarly lens on their teaching. Each will share what motivated their project, how they approached it, and the ways it’s influenced their choices in the classroom. If you’ve been considering taking a more scholarly approach to your own teaching — or are just interested in learning from your colleagues’ investigations – then join our discussion of teaching as scholarship.
The Work of Supporting Student Mental Health
Julie Dunne (CSON), Sylvia Sellers-García (History), and Melinda Stoops (Student Affairs)
Faculty, given their routine contact with students, are often amongst the first to notice when a student’s mental health is suffering. As we face a national mental health crisis for college students and adolescents, more faculty are feeling called to take on the labor of supporting student mental health while also seeking to maintain appropriate boundaries given their role and expertise. This session provides an opportunity to hear from colleagues who have interviewed students about their experiences on campus and centered student mental health and wellness in their course design. It's also a chance to learn about Student Affairs resources that exist to support students and the faculty who support them.