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09/09/2020

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Marcus Schultz-Bergin

This is really great. A lot of what Javier says about his 'teaching journey' mirrors my own.

I did just want to add a couple of things, as I use a mastery-based grading system (or a hybrid) in all of my courses, and am using it online right now:

1. You can do it in a class where discussion is still a major part. The key is that the 'mastery' elements link to "levels" or "stages" in paper writing. So, for instance, level 1 may be "summarize an argument" while level 2 may be "summarize an argument and offer an objection". You can have designated due dates for papers (or not) but students just submit whichever level they are at. So, on paper due date 2 you may receive some "summarize an argument" papers (because they didn't pass it the first time for instance) and some "summarize and object" (from those who did pass level 1 the first time).
The other, related way to handle this is to evaluate the papers pass/no pass (or, for me 'pass/not yet') and offer 'revision tokens' students can spend to revise a paper that does not yet pass. This ensures they put your feedback into action.
But notice if you do this route it doesn't necessarily change what you do in class - I do spend time having students work in small groups and then as a class to craft summaries and think about strategies for objections, etc. but we continue to move through the semester. A student who is still stuck behind still benefits from what happens in class - both because they are continuing to get practice, albeit going beyond their current stage, and because the material we are working with is what they will have to do their next paper on, no matter the level.

2. I use the mastery grading system online and it works quite well, but it is because I still set deadlines for the major assignments. Right now, for instance, everyone submits the same type of paper on the same deadline. Those who do not pass spend revision tokens to revise and simply cannot do the next paper until they pass the earlier one (in large part this is because the papers are actually 'paper fragments' that build on each other until they are all put together in the final assignment). Grades for the class reflect how far along they made it (or chose to go).

So, anyway, I just wanted to speak to the value of the mastery based system for other types of philosophy courses, especially ones where philosophical writing is a major part. Similar to what Javier describes, the setup can be a bit time consuming - you have to be very precise with your requirements for 'passing' the paper and students need to know those in advance, etc. but the grading is much quicker and it is really nice to have students actually implement your feedback!

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