What is a grading contract?

When you read the syllabus you’ll encounter a little quirk in the way this course works: the grading contract. Maybe you’ve been in a class with a grading contract before. Though they aren’t a common approach, professors have been using grading contracts since the 60s.

So what is a grading contract and how do they work? Well, in the spirit of video games, you might say that a grading contract is akin to setting the level of difficulty on a video game: novice, experienced, expert. It’s a way of setting the challenge you want to take on, as well as the reward you want to pursue. In this class, you can choose from three contracts–A, B, and C–which determine the grade you are aiming for and identify the assignments you will need to complete.  The details are all in the syllabus so I won’t rehash them here.  [I reserve +/- grades as a way of making judgments about the quality of your work.] So, for example, if you choose the “B” contract and complete all the contracted work according to the objective standards established (e.g. minimum length of an assignment), then you will receive some kind of B as a final grade (B-, B, or B+).

Why choose this approach? In short, because I want you to set your own goals for this course. You might think it is obvious that everyone wants an A. Maybe, but in my experience the B contract is the most commonly selected option. And some students go for the C option. I make no judgments about students based on their contract choices. Maybe you’re taking this course because you need 3 more credits to graduate and you’re working full time.  In that case, you might decide that you don’t want to do the extra work.  On the other hand, maybe a week into the class you find yourself really interested in what’s going on and decide you’d like to do more research on video games.

Maybe you really want that “A.”


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