Use this moment as a time to rethink your notion of fairness in assignments for your classes, focusing more on equity than equality.
Techniques and Activities to help you explore this practice.
Acknowledge Your Subjectivity
It is often tempting and comforting to think of our work as teachers as being objective and neutral, and most of us would likely state that it’s important to be “fair” to students. However, it’s important to acknowledge that we all have biases and backgrounds that impact how we approach our students. Acknowledging is the first step in creating a more equitable classroom.
The point of this acknowledgement is not to just give up and let “unfairness” rule the day. Rather, once we own up to our subjectivity we can work to dismantle the structures in our classroom that are built around it: our rules about late assignments, expecting students to all put the same “effort” to get the same grade, how we even assign grades.
Let Go of "Fair" Rules
Part of this practice is letting go of the rules you’ve set up in your class because you think they make the work “fair” or the playing field “level.” Instead, remember that all your students are playing on different fields, so it’s okay to have assignments that are adaptable, flexible, and responsive to their situations.
Consider Student Challenges
In the best of times, our students contend with challenges and each student’s situation is unique to the blend of challenges they face: physical, mental, and learning disabilities; food and housing insecurity; racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist discrimination; job and family demands; short- and long-term health issues; difficult family and personal relationships; their own developmental progress; and other challenges that may be difficult to see much less name.
Now, as our students are contending with the realities of the global pandemic and the implications of the #blacklivesmatter movement, we can be sure they have even more on their plates.
Consider how you can create work and assignments for your students that allow them to “succeed” no matter what blend of challenges are in their lives. Some strategies to consider:
- letting students set goals for themselves
- using (guided) self-evaluations as all/part of the grading of an assignment
- providing alternative ways to complete an assignment, and inviting students to suggest some of these alternatives
- keeping deadlines flexible.
Take Time to Talk about Fairness
Build time into your course to explicitly discuss bias, objectivity/subjectivity, and fairness. Have students brainstorm the kinds of personal issues and challenges that could be impacting their work or commitment to a class (you do NOT need to ask students to disclose their own personal situations; in fact this could be an anonymous activity using Google Forms or a Google Doc). Rather than asking students to talk about individual issues/challenges that are identified (which could make them uncomfortable if it’s an issue they relate to), in groups do a 15-20 minute Web hunt for a resource/video/article that speaks to the issue. Then have groups present what they’ve found and lead a short discussion.
At the end, invite students to share how you could make assignments more equitable given the challenges they may be facing.
Revamp Your Assessment
One of the clearest ways to restructure your course around fairness is to consider how you grade and assess classwork and assignments. Research the many practices of ungrading/alternative assessment (see the Explore section below) and implement a new approach for an assignment, unit, or the whole course.
Online reading and resources to help dive deeper into this practice.
- Keep it Equitable and Accessible, Dave Cormier (video)
- Embracing Subjectivity, Maha Bali: “pretending to be objective or neutral only hides our subjectivity, it does not actually remove it”
- In Homework is a Social Justice Issue, Will Richardson focuses on K-12 education, but his lessons resonate in higher ed settings as well: “I advocate adding another dimension to Bloom’s Taxonomy — one that incorporates consideration of social justice alongside pedagogical philosophy and cognitive psychology. “
- Check out the Open CoLab Resource Page on Ungrading for ideas on how to rethink assessment.
A larger community of teachers and learners interested in this practice.
Discuss on Twitter
If you are active on Twitter, we encourage you to share your thought and ideas using the #ACEFramework hashtag and the #fairness hashtag to talk about this practice, in particular.
Join a Meeting
If you are interested in talking to people about the Equity value (for which Rethinking Fairness is an ACE-informed practice), we invite you to our hosted Zoom chats. Chats are scheduled this summer on the following dates:
- Thursday, June 18 from 1:00PM-2:00PM (EDT): Overview of the ACE Framework
- Thursday, July 9 from 1:00PM-2:00PM (EDT): Equity Practices
Submit Your Ideas
If you find yourself working this summer on a project or approach that uses Rethinking Fairness, we invite you to share what you’ve found or created, via the Submit Something button below. If you choose to publicly share your submission, it will immediately become available on this page in the Revisit section. (For particularly compelling submissions, we may also add this to the Explore section of this page.)
Hypothesize with Us
The online annotation tool, Hypothesis, is built into this Web site. Feel free to annotate this (or any page in the ACE Framework) with your own thoughts, critiques, questions, or ideas. You can easily get started with a Hypothesis account (which is free) and learn more about how to use the tool.
Join Our Team
Plymouth State University community members are invited to join our Teams site for the ACE Framework. Feel free to use our discussion channel to ask questions, give suggestions, and point to new resources.
A space for user-submitted ideas, resources, and links related to this practice.