Class Ranks in Assignment Grading

Thomas Dedinsky - VP Academic
Posted on: July 10, 2019

Hey readers! In wake of the recent investigation I’ve been doing regarding class ranks in assignment grading, I thought I’d give you readers a brief overview of what my findings have been. The full report can be seen on the EngSoc website under Documents -> Internal Documents, or at https://engsoc.app.box.com/s/jjdbej2s045zz7xo2q51sz30q2skozct .

Note that this class ranking is NOT directly tied to a student’s ranking that they receive at the end of the term. Rather, this is a part of an assignment or other assessment which you can only receive full marks if you perform better than a certain percentage of your classmates. One example might be a coding assignment in a course where you would get 80% for making an algorithm that worked accurately, but the remaining 20% was determined based on how fast your algorithm was compared to your classmates.

The main point of motivation behind this investigation was the stance at JAGM 2018, where Engineering students voted to add a stance to our Document of Stances advocating the Faculty of Engineering and University to discourage unnecessary competition. This was originally changed from being just targeted at class rankings at the end of term due to examples brought up with other uses of unnecessary competition in classes, like this.

The report aims to investigate the relationship with class ranks in assignment grading with both departments, to see if this is allowed by professors, and students of each department, to see if this practice does happen and if it’s liked by these classes. From there, engineering students are able to give recommendations on how I, as VP Academic, should act on this.

All departments were contacted regarding this assessment. None responded saying that they prohibit this practice with instructors, although some said that it wasn’t encouraged. Only Mechatronics, Computer, Electrical and Software were reported to use this.

All academic reps were contacted regarding this and had mainly negative reactions to this idea. Many felt it is a toxic practice which would discourage classroom collaboration, fostering stress and over-competitiveness. There was also worry regarding this practice reinforcing the bad stigmatism surrounding engineers and their work ethic/mental health. Finally, some people weren’t even aware or convinced this is a currently used practice in courses.

There were some points to be made for this practice. A few people felt that competition was a great motivator, encouraging people to go beyond the bare minimum. There was more acceptance of it only being used for a small portion of a grade. Some alternatives were suggested, such as having a small portion of the top performers receive a bonus mark, so it wasn’t a penalty for everyone but moreso a pat on the back for some.

Overall, 80% of academic reps were against while 13.3% were for it. The only department with positive responses was ECE, with the most negative response in the MME department.

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