# Who's tried Ungrading in STEM courses?

Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
I could get away with a single exam but there is no testing center to send them to where I can ensure that they can't cheat.
I take it your courses will be taught remotely. My colleagues often complained about obvious signs of cheating on exams, like using weird ass notation. I had some students who copied stray marks that were on the solution they found online because they clearly didn't understand the solution. One thing you can do is make students write explanations on exams, so even if they find a solution online, it's useless unless they understand what's going on.

I'm happy to be back in the classroom this semester, and so are the students for the most part. The remote classes definitely took a toll on some students. I'm teaching the second semester of intro physics, but I noticed some students really don't know what it takes to succeed in a physics course. Some don't attend regularly (and miss the labs as a result); some don't do much of the homework; etc.

vanhees71
Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
I saw the result many years ago in interviewing EE candidates. It was pretty common for people to have taken classes and have no idea how to do the basic stuff they said they could, that should have been easy. I had zero interest in their grades, that meant nothing compared to asking for solutions to problems.
This gets to the idea underlying ungrading.

The traditional idea behind grades is that students who learn the material well will do well on assignments and exams, which will be reflected in their grade for a course. But there are a lot of students who suck at learning, so the emphasis on earning points/grades incentivizes cheating and other bad behaviors over learning. If a student happens to learn something along the way, great. But getting 100% on the exam turns out to be the main goal, not understanding the material.

I imagine the way the system is supposed to work is in fact how it worked out for many of us here. So we have the mindset that since the system worked for us, we're just going to stick with it, despite obvious signs it doesn't work for many students. The goal of ungrading is to set up a course so that learning, rather than earning points, becomes the main focus for students.

DaveE
Homework Helper
Gold Member
I saw the result many years ago in interviewing EE candidates. It was pretty common for people to have taken classes and have no idea how to do the basic stuff they said they could, that should have been easy. I had zero interest in their grades, that meant nothing compared to asking for solutions to problems. I didn't care how or where they learned the material. Grad school is also a place where knowledge has to actually be applied, not just collected on a transcript.
That reminds us of why good interviewers for scientific or engineering position candidates ask basic applied questions, such as mostly involving basic arithmetic and basic algebra, including for some simple applications directly related to the job to be filled. The competent candidates will logically pull their way through the problem; and the incompetent candidates will not due to not having the concepts or to not having the academic skills. But OF COURSE, this does not account for social inter-network connections.

Staff Emeritus
Allow me to reminisce about the old days. When I went to college, we had an enforced policy that C must be average. Actually the mean, with half above and half below. That means the average GPA was 2.0 by definition. Flunk out was 1.85.

We lost half the students each semester. We started with 340 freshmen EEs and graduated 30. Nobody ever asked about rank in class.

On the other hand, tuition my freshman year was only $300, and by senior year$600. Admission was lax by today's standard. It was an egalitarian system that granted admission to a large number of candidates, but graduated only the worthy. Many flunk outs were able to get degrees in less demanding fields in less demanding colleges. They could transfer credits for the courses they did pass. In that way, those who flunked out did not lose a fortune. The phrase for that is, "Reach for the brass ring."

p.s. It was the Vietnam War that changed everything. Suddenly, a grade less than B was seen as a death sentence. The flunk rate dropped drastically. After the war, it never reverted to the previous state.

swampwiz, DaveE, BillTre and 1 other person
Gold Member
an enforced policy that C must be average
Oh, so you didn't go to Stanford then...

swampwiz
It's hard to imagine 1/3 of grad students failing a course.
It's not so hard when the course is Theory of Elastic Stability.

It's not so hard when the course is Theory of Elastic Stability.
My point was that most of those people should not have been admitted to the graduate program.

swampwiz
Allow me to reminisce about the old days. When I went to college, we had an enforced policy that C must be average. Actually the mean, with half above and half below. That means the average GPA was 2.0 by definition. Flunk out was 1.85.

We lost half the students each semester. We started with 340 freshmen EEs and graduated 30. Nobody ever asked about rank in class.

p.s. It was the Vietnam War that changed everything. Suddenly, a grade less than B was seen as a death sentence. The flunk rate dropped drastically. After the war, it never reverted to the previous state.
Perhaps it was like this?

Gold Member
Dr. Transport, gmax137, gleem, others,
about all the cheating and the remedies you have been trying, what more can you do? What else are you ALLOWED to do?
I've asked for the largest lecture halls on campus, that way I can get away with one version of the exam and spread them out so that they can't cheat. Right now I am in a classroom that has about 5 chairs empty, so spreading them out isn't an option.

We are not a big university, nor a major research university, so we don't have the amenities that others have. I'm really only on campus for about 8 hours a week, so taking time to do other approaches isn't viable.

Part of the cheating is cultural, they feel honored to have someone view their work as good and want to copy it. The other side of this, is that they feel the obligation to help each other out, again it is a cultural thing. In the US, we are brought up to help, but it is every man for himself, which is not how they were raised.

I had three of my students who got a zero for copying beg me for a makeup exam, I gave in, but it was extremely difficult and I'm going to be a bastard grading it, they won't get better than an 50%. When they came to take it, I locked up their bags and phones in my lab store room and put them in three different rooms and told them explicitly that if I saw any evidence of cheating this time, zeros would be given again and they'd flunk my course, period. Come back next semester, buy the new text and try again.

As for what else I can do, I don't know.

Staff Emeritus
Part of the cheating is cultural
It is also cultural to not "rat" on friends or family. I think it is strange how some social instincts are actually antisocial in effect.