Season 3 Episode 2

Ungrading: What, Why, and How

In recent years, many faculty across higher education have raised the question: are there ways in which traditional grading—summarizing the student experience with a letter or number—takes the focus off of the learning itself? In response to this question, an alternative set of practices has emerged, known as ‘ungrading.’ These practices and techniques range from contract-based grading (Inoue, 2019) to the elimination of grades all together (Stommel, 2017). Wherever they find themselves on the continuum, in this episode, we hear Georgetown faculty wrestle with the nuances and complexities of assigning grades, and thoughts about their impact.

The four faculty featured in this episode - Patrick Johnson, Associate Teaching Professor in Physics; Karen Shaup, Associate Teaching Professor in English; Erika Seamon, Teaching Professor in the American Studies Program; and Milena Santoro, Associate Professor in the Department of French and Francophone Studies - followed different paths to ungrading and don’t all practice the same techniques. The conversations illustrate how ungrading doesn’t equate to a lack of feedback, or skipping assessment in courses, but instead makes extensive feedback to the students more central to the course than actual grades. Their practices demonstrate how changes can run the gamut from small tweaks to large overhauls and encourage students to turn their attention from the outcome of grades to the process of learning.

In this episode, you will learn more about such key takeaways as:

  • Ungrading practices has been shown to increase student motivation to aspire for academic excellence
  • Shifting the focus away from grades can reduce pressure, foster curiosity, and increase intrinsic motivation among students
  • Ungrading does not require you to eliminate letter grades altogether and does not have to be applied to the entire course
  • A wide range of techniques comprises ungrading; it is not a one-size-fits-all approach
  • Ungrading practices can be applied in all disciplines

To take a deeper dive into the literature that has informed their ungrading practices, click here to access our show notes where you will find links to resources about how ungrading can positively impact student learning, motivation, and performance (Blum, 2021; Chamberlin et al,, 2018; Heissel et al., 2021), encourage curiosity and creativity (Amabile, 2018; Rapchak et al., 2022), dismantle power imbalances between faculty and students (Rapchak et al., 2022), and humanize students (Morris, 2021; Stommel, 2021).

Click here to listen in on the experiences of these faculty and their students.

: : Transcript

Show Notes


Featured in this Episode

  • Karen Shaup, Director of the Writing Center and Associate Teaching Professor, English Department
  • Miléna Santoro, Associate Professor, Department of French and Francophone Studies
  • Patrick Johnson, Associate Teaching Professor, Department of Physics
  • Erika Seamon, Teaching Professor, American Studies Program


Georgetown Resources

Additional Research

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