How Canvas can help you avoid grading bias

Despite our intention to be fair, unconscious mental processes affect our behavior, including how we assess student work. Banaji & Greenwald (2013) expand on the science of this phenomenon in Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. The best way to match intentions to behavior is to identify tools that help us circumvent these ingrained mental processes.

Here are some practical ways you can make sure you mitigate the effects of hidden bias when grading or providing formative feedback on writing assignments:

  • Set up a Canvas assignment where students upload a document or file rather than relying on an email attachment or paper based submission. This avoids the unconscious bias introduced by seeing the student’s name and the bias that is introduced by knowing the person behind the name. Avoiding email submissions also helps avoid getting affected by the tone of the email message.
  • Once the assignment is submitted you can review and annotate it in SpeedGrader in Canvas. Ask students to upload documents without name and then enable anonymous grading in SpeedGrader.  Here are the instructions to do so:
    1. Open the assignment in Speedgrader.
    2. Click Settings (Gear icon) in the top-left menu.  Anon_grading1
    3. in the pop-up window, select ‘Hide student names in the SpeedGrader
      Note: You will still be able to see student names in the Gradebook to review their overall performance.
  • Use rubrics to grade assignments. Rubrics help make our expectations about student work overt. You can add Rubric to an assignment in Canvas and use it in the Speedgrader to guide your grading. Read more about Canvas Rubrics.
  • Grade exams question by question. This helps avoid Halo bias where grades for later questions are affected by performance on the previous questions. When using Canvas quiz with open ended or essay type questions, you can use SpeedGrader to grade question by question rather than grading the entire quiz for one student.

If you have other ideas to avoid hidden bias in your teaching and grading, please share it in the comments section. Check the annotated bibliography below to read more about hidden bias and bias in grading. If you have other resources you would like us to add in the list below, please share it in comments.

Annotated Bibliography:

Creative Technology in the Classroom

Integrating creative technology into your course can increase student engagement, introduce professional skills in addition to the core subject expertise, and give you and your students a new perspective on course content. It can also be daunting to integrate into your curriculum, particularly if you have little experience doing so.

The Multimedia Lab services help reduce this burden by providing comprehensive support for a variety of creative technologies including video and audio production, animation, large-format printing, 3D printing and virtual reality. MML support includes:

  • Consultations on creative technology assignments for faculty
  • Workshops for students and teaching assistants
  • Equipment for checkout
  • Space for production and editing within our labs and studio.
    The case study below provides a detailed description of this process.

One possible area for future collaboration with MMLs is ‘conference poster design and production’. Students can work on a research project throughout the semester that concludes into a final assignment to be submitted as a poster. The Multimedia Labs can provide training on professional design software and printing on the lab’s large-format printer.

Case study: Video Assignment with Prof Matthew Guterl

Course: Global Macho: Race, Gender, and Action Movies, AMST1600A

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Can a learning management system increase student productivity?

Jared Stein, Director of Instructional Design Services, Utah Valley University (UVU), recently described how UVU’s new learning management system (LMS) is actually causing students to submit more homework (Instant Notification as a Motivator, Flexknowlogy 5/17/2011). How can an LMS do that?

In his blog post, Stein explains that the assignment due-date feature in Canvas (Instructure, Inc.) coupled with student’s selection for notifications is triggering active student response. After the assignment due date has passed, Stein grades the assignments, entering a ‘0’ (zero) for students who did not submit their work on time. (The grades could be over written later, if he chose to accept late submissions).  Sounds simple, right, and so what? Well, there’s more…

Stein discovered that the system pushes out instant grade notifications when enabled to do so, thus triggering response from students, especially those who received a ‘0’. Stein found 3/5 students contacted him and promptly submitted a completed assignment.

This case at UVU isn’t the only one. Another Canvas user reported she was grading assignments during class when a student walked up to her asking to speak with her about a grade she had entered just moments before.

  • How important is grading, or written feedback, on student work?
  • In what way does immediacy factor in to effective feedback? Or, does feedback have to be timely in order to be effective?