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Why don’t students collect grades?

A stack of papers Photo courtesy of Phillip Wong

Does this scenario sound familiar? After days of writing comments, correcting errors, and trading pages in a cramped campus room, the last assessment is finally graded and placed like a crown on a stack of booklets as tall as your desk. You’re eager to get these assessments—brimming with feedback—into the hands of your students, so you alphabetically organize them into five sizeable stacks and bring them to the lecture hall where you wait for them to be collected.

And you wait.

Eventually your office begins to look like an assessment orphanage with unclaimed assessments consuming every square foot of your floor and shelving.

While this is a frustrating—and common—experience for educators, ultimately it is the students who suffer the most. Feedback is, as Professor David Rowntree (1987) so eloquently put it, “the life blood of learning”. When students don’t collect their graded assessments they lose a significant opportunity to reflect upon their work, learn from their mistakes, and grow.

So why don’t students collect their assessments? Winter and Dye (2004) from the University of Wolverhampton posit the following reasons:

  1. They already know their grades. Students are significantly less likely to collect their assessments and read the feedback if they know the grade.
  2. They lack the motivation. Student are less inclined to collect their assessments if they anticipate that the feedback will be critical or unhelpful.
  3. Poor attendance. Students who miss in-class opportunities to collect their graded assessments are less likely to pick them up at a later date.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of strategies to ensure students collect—and engage with—their graded assessments. Many instructors are incorporating activities such as exam wrappers, reflection sheets, and two-stage exams into their classrooms and homework assignments.

Another trend is returning assessments digitally by making them available for download through a learning management system or by emailing the marked up to students’ university inboxes. This ensures all students have equal access to their graded assessments, while also providing administrators and instructors with digital records and artefacts.

Having students participate assessment reflection activities or returning completed work through digital platforms are great methods to ensure students collect and learn from their assessment feedback. Your students will benefit from their feedback and your office will benefit from the extra space.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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