Give students the freedom to choose their own success

The methods used in post-secondary education are changing. Enrollment in massive open online courses (MOOCs) is on the rise and more and more classes are being offered as hybrids. One new format that students may not be familiar with is the points-based course. In these classes, the final grade is a compilation of points the student earns on various assignments, but with a catch: Students choose the types of assignments on which they will be graded. Whether it be a seven-page research assignment, complete with annotated bibliography, or a collection of sketches and poetry, anything is on the table. Students must show that they have learned and understood the material covered in class.

Although the idea of student-controlled assignments sounds odd, there is some merit to points-based grading. In fact, advantages exist for students as well as instructors. When a student chooses his or her own assignment, the student cares about the result. Rather than reading more than 20 half-hearted papers on a similar topic, instructors can see their students’ comprehension as the student chooses to show it.

The quote “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” applies here. Not every student that writes eloquently can put their critical thinking into words or understand concepts through repetitive practices.

An obvious response to the points-based sytem is concern over whether or not students will follow through when presented with so much freedom. However, it’s not that simple. Points-based classes are just like traditional classes in that they have syllabi and real expectations. Even though there are no set exams or papers during the semester, students must hand in assignments by set dates. The exact requirements for the assignments vary by class and subject, but students aren’t required to sit in a final exam.

Some believe that a lack of structure leads to a student’s failure in graduate school or the professional world—but that’s not the always the case. There is always an emphasis on being as “well-rounded” as possible. How well-rounded is someone if all they know how to do is follow instructions to compose a paper or comply with each step of a formula to get the correct answer?

The points-based system engages students and challenges them to meet the expectations they have set for themselves. We are always our toughest critics. Allowing students to create their own curricula prevents them from getting bored. Students who are bored with presenting information in the same way repeatedly will eventually stop doing their best on every assignment.

“Variety is the spice of life,” so my mother says.