Eduvation Blog

Midterm Grades and Midwinter Magic!

Good morning!

Today, the number of universities announcing compassionate grading policies for the Fall term just doubled, from 3 to 6. So that prompts me to share several recent stories about the challenges younger students are facing with online learning, and the social challenges undergraduates are feeling in the UK in particular.

I fully expect more institutions will join this movement as their senates have time to deliberate, recognizing just how “unprecedented” this year has been. But I also think new approaches to grading and testing have been gradually gaining momentum for a decade or so. Pedagogical experts and psychologists point to the numerous advantages of formative, authentic, ongoing or competency-based assessment rather than high-stakes examinations.

This discussion will continue…


COVID on Campus

CdnPSE reported 12 more cases yesterday…

Niagara College reported a case at its Niagara-on-the-Lake campus on Sunday. (Total 6 cases this fall.) Due to rising alert levels, the campus is limited to students attending in-person classes and approved employees as required.  NC

uWaterloo reported another case on Monday. (Total 15 cases this fall.)  UW

Western U’s University Hospital reported 2 more outbreaks yesterday, adding 10 more linked cases. The current total is 71 patients and 60 staff, and more than 100 others associated with UH and Western (that I have counted).  CBC


Failing Kids

Some discouraging news out of K-12 schools may bode ill for future PSE applicants…

6 to 8 Months Behind

Alberta children struggling with reading in grades 1-3 fell up to 6 months behind because of the pivot to online learning this spring, says George Georgiou of the uAlberta Faculty of Education. “Those already struggling with their reading skills didn’t get the pull-out, small group intervention when they needed it… If this continues, it means that schools will have to invest significant dollars in supporting these children for the rest of their school lives.” 75% of students who don’t overcome their reading difficulties by Grade 3 never catch up later. Parents will need to give their children extra help with phonics, reading together, and free online reading intervention tools.  UA Folio

F’s Going Through the Roof

School districts across the US are reporting the number of failing grades on October report cards is double or even triple the usual – and students with disabilities, socioeconomic disadvantages, or language challenges are failing most. In Oregon, Texas, New Mexico and Minnesota, schools or districts are reporting about 40% of students are receiving failing grades (while 8% would be more typical). Online learners are skipping classes or missing assignments, and even when they attend class, teachers are finding it difficult to identify problems. “When you have a kid in person, he’s going to take the test.”  CITY

Feeling Adrift

Campus “Lord of the Flies”

uManchester student Iris Clifford writes that “life as a fresher this year is a cross between Nineteen Eighty-Four and Lord of the Flies… It feels as though we have been left to fend for ourselves.” After a gap year ruined by COVID19, students arrived in residence to find most social activities cancelled, restrictions multiplying, and infections rising. After a few weeks, their dorm rooms felt “claustrophobic,” but students were blamed for going out. Her sense is that UK universities “are just money-making machines” that tripled tuition in 2010 and sought to get first-year students into residence no matter what, for the revenue. “It should have been an opportunity to grow and thrive, but, for now, I’m just staring at a breeze-block wall.”  The Guardian

Imprisoned in Quarantine

When 124 students at uGlasgow tested positive, more than 1,000 were forced to endure the “pure hell” of quarantine in their dorms, in their first weeks living away from home. As they inevitably tried to socialize, police started patrolling the residence halls and “it really did feel like a prison.” When 12 students share a single flat and two toilets, the half who are infected can’t socially distance from the half who aren’t. Food deliveries were “little dry bags” of pasta, instant noodles, cookies and chips.  Vice

“We all just sort of said: ‘You know what, it’s all gonna spread either way, so we might as well have fun with it.’ We’re dumb 17 and 18-year-olds. I don’t really know what they expected to happen.”Becca Leslie, uGlasgow first-year student


Nascent Mental Health Crisis

Many universities in the US and UK lured students back to campus, only to lock down as COVID19 erupted out of control. “It feels as though we’re paying to be in prison,” said one. After several weeks of isolation in their dorms, once classes pivoted online, some simply opted to move back home, if they were fortunate to have supportive families. Many UK parents and students are frustrated that, instead of staffing up in counsellors and advisors, universities have hired additional security staff. Young people leaving home for the first time are at risk of mental health challenges, and this year has the potential to become a full-fledged shadow pandemic.  The Guardian

Depression, Anxiety and Worse

The American CDC reports that 25.5% of young adults aged 18-24 considered suicide in May and June because of the COVID19 pandemic. Anxiety disorder was 3x as prevalent as it was a year earlier. 13.3% of all Americans reported substance abuse. Compounding factors including “social isolation, absence of school structure, unemployment and other financial worries” are doubtless contributing to this decline in mental health.  Politico


Compassionate Grading

As we head into the stress of exams, more and more universities across the country are announcing a variety of compassionate grading options for students. So far I have tracked 8 Fall 2020 announcements in my CdnPSE spreadsheet, including Bishop’s, Brandon, Carleton, Dalhousie, MSVU, and 3 new additions… 

uCalgary will allow students to convert one grade in the Fall 2020 term to Credit (if the grade is C- or higher), or to convert a D or D+ grade to a D* or D+*. Neither will be included in calculating GPAs.  UC

Concordia U will allow students to defer one exam, convert one course grade to pass/fail, or drop one failed course from their transcripts and GPAs, both in the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms.  Montreal Gazette

uManitoba’s senate voted 83% in favour of a student union proposal for a compassionate grading system, which will allow students to drop one grade per term from their GPA in fall 2020 and winter 2021, although it will stay on their transcript. “The next step is for us to work toward actually solving the problems associated with online learning — to get to a point where we don’t need compassionate grading to correct for those problems anymore.”  CBC

If you’re keeping track, so far 6 have announced grading policies that will include the Winter 2021 term as well.


I don’t think I’ll have time this month to produce a full-blown Ten with Ken Holiday Special – I know they have been some of the most eagerly-anticipated episodes of the year, but it takes far more time than you might think, and I have several major research projects on the go this month.

However, if you’re in the holiday mood, I’ll encourage you to check out some previous episodes, like this one:

Midwinter Magic!

Part I of last year’s Holiday Special includes clips from 60 higher ed videos, from claymation presidents to gigantic snowglobes. (Try not to cringe at the lack of social distancing – it was a simpler time!) The anxiety of campus communicators trying to come up with a creative holiday video idea is positively quaint after the incredibly challenging, stressful year that followed.  YouTube

I have to admit, I don’t expect many institutions will have the time to invest in such elaborate holiday greetings this year – but if yours did, or if you come across other examples from December 2020, please let me know!  I am compiling a playlist of 2020 higher ed holiday videos here.


Thanks for reading (and perhaps watching)!  Be safe and stay well,



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