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  • Alicia Takaoka

Finals Week

Okay, so when I said “Grading Suuuuuucks,” I didn’t fully mean it.

There are times when it is the worst part of my job because I see all the ways that students do not listen. However, I also get to see the culmination of their hard work.

I have some amazing students who have completed wonderful projects. For example, I have had students try to grow their own oysters, evaluate the effects of sunscreens in water, and observe sleep patterns in roommates (with consent) with varying amounts of caffeine in their systems. Many of my students grew lettuce, basil, and avocadoes using organic, inorganic, and hydroponic media. One student argued for the use of banana stalks, and his data (evaluated by our analytical research lab) confirmed his suspicions. Students working in labs have worked on poster presentations discussing local herd immunity in schools, using SEM to evaluate Phytoplankton, and breast cancer mutations when exposed to different media. My students in Women’s Studies and Popular Fiction classes presented at conferences in the social sciences as well as the humanities discussing gothic children’s literature. Some of my students have also published papers on combating marine viruses, HCI Design and Age Groups, and using remote sensing uses in paleontology. My business students have created and awarded grants for building infrastructure and medical care. They have developed business plans for sweet treats, learning languages, and apps to connect businesses to products without needing a middle person. There are times my job is very rewarding. I don’t just watch people achieve things they never thought were possible. I get to help them.

I love teaching project-based learning.

I love my students’ ideas and enthusiasm.

Sometimes, grading does suck. My colleagues and I often have conversations about the meta of it. Is audio feedback better? How detailed do we go? Are revisions mandatory? Should we do final exams, or should we have final papers? How much new tech should we incorporate into our classes? Should students have to create profiles with third party platforms in order to pass the course? How much is too much for books and homework management platforms? Where is the line between attention and content, and how can we achieve that balance? Should we have TAs assist, especially with evaluating organization, content, and grammar? We do what we can at our institution, a little liberal arts university in the middle of an ocean, facing constant budget restrictions and cuts.

Teaching and grading are not one-size-fits-all. This is for classes, students, teachers, professors, all of it.

Teaching is an art and a practice. Nothing proved that more than this semester.

Last semester, we were all in crisis mode. For people reading this in the future, COVID happened in the US in March 2020, right around Spring Break for a lot of schools in the US. Students were flying home if they could. Some of my students were stuck wherever they went on break. Some students went home. Students had to quarantine for two weeks before they could be allowed back in their dorms, and even though our university system President said we would leave students’ dorms how they left them, this was not the case. Many had to arrange to move remotely. It was hectic.

Some of my students were stuck in homes with their abusers, unable to leave.

Many students did not have access to stable wifi or working devices.

Food, of which we are ridiculously dependent to ship in, was insecure, and some of our food for our island’s schools (our DOE will feed entire families during the summer, no questions asked) got sunk in a tragic accident that lost like 9 overstocked shipping containers into the ocean. The boat was overstocked in the first place because the number of times boats were allowed to come to our island was reduced from two shipments a week to 1 shipment a week. It was a dire time.

At any rate, the Fall 2020 semester was cray in a different way.

It was a balancing act. Everyone had to intentionally plan to work in person. No wait. Remotely for the first two weeks. No wait- the first four weeks, but students could also choose to not ever come in…or have their participation count. No wait. Yeah, remotely. Everyone is going to work remotely for almost all classes for the entire semester. Couple that with all the aforementioned problems from crisis learning in the Spring semester and then with students emailing that they are working or in another country or raising a family that also needs the internet for school and work.

Yeah, so the craziness has not stopped.

Back to the art and practice of teaching.

There is a type of research called action research. It is an iterative process. This is super-simplified, but you identify an issue and one thing you can change to try to improve it. You then analyze the results and see if anything else needs to change.

Teaching is like that.

This is an abrupt end to this blog. I went on a tangent about what I learned about teaching this semester and what I will apply moving forward, but it was so long that it became next week’s blog instead. All this to say I love what I do, even in the thick of the bad parts.

So, no. Grading doesn’t suck all the time.

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