Instructions / Syllabus

Learning Beyond Letter Grades Syllabus

Please take a moment to read through the instructions below. 

What is the point of this course?

Why do so many schools use letter grades? Where did they come from? What do they tell us and fail to tell us about the learners? What is the relationship between letter grades, student learning, and assessment? This six-week course will allow you to consider the benefits, limitations, alternatives and enhancements to using letter grades in learning environments. This is not a prescribed course. Instead, think of it more like a choose-your-own adventure experience.  You are welcome to do as much or as little as you find useful. You can choose among a number of live session and self-paced modules (in order to earn badges). You will have a chance to examine topics like the benefits and limits of letter grades, badges, peer assessment, self-assessment, portfolio assessment, narrative assessment, and several other relevant topics. As a way to develop a deeper understanding of the subject, you will be invited to examine a variety of real world examples of learning organizations that use or support these different assessment models in place of or in addition to a traditional letter grade system.

What sort of background do I need for this course?

This course is designed for individuals who aspire to or currently work in a variety of learning organizations. Prior knowledge about curriculum development and designing lessons or learning experiences is helpful, but not required.

What is the schedule for this course? How long is it open?

This course has different strands (weekly webinars that are listed on the live events page), a Google+ Community and ongoing Twitter discussion, and self-paced badges.  The webinars run weekly for six weeks (October 7 – November 15). The Google+ Community and Twitter discussion will remain open as long as people want to use them. The self-paced badge content will also remain open and viewable for the foreseeable future.  However, the current plan is to only review badge submissions until November 15. So, you might want to consider November 15 the official end of the open course.

With that said, for those who want to earn graduate credit for work in this course, we are working on an option where you can sign up through Concorida University Wisconsin. Three EDGP graduate credits are available for those who sign up through Concordia, complete all of the badges, participate in a weekly live online book talk for eight weeks, and submit a final written reflection on the book talk badges. Inquire about this through CUW Online. The dates are still being determined, but it will likely run in January and February, 2014.

Who is the course instructor?

This course is a team effort.  With that said, there is a dedicated course tour guide.

Bernard Bull currently serves as Assistant Vice President of Academics, Associate Professor of Educational Design & Technology, and Chair of the online M.S. in Educational Design and Technology at Concordia University Wisconsin. You can learn a bit more about him here or on his personal blog.  He will serve as your tour guide during this course: answering questions, providing tips and suggestions, learning alongside you, and coordinating the some of the events.  You can expect to receive a weekly announcement  reviewing highlights of the past week and point toward the upcoming weeks.

In addition, there will be a number of “module or badge” coordinators.  These people may help out in various ways throughout the course, but some of them are responsible for providing the feedback on your work as you pursue certain badges. Here is a list of the team:

  • Margie Blodgett
  • Tom Davila
  • Alyse Rodich
  • Tyler Shadick
  •  Matt Stenson

How is this course organized?

There are three main parts to this course:

  1. weekly live events,
  2. opportunities to earn badges related to different course topics,
  3. opportunities to have ongoing and informal sharing and connections around the course topics.

1. Weekly live events (learner-instructor interaction)

There will be a scheduled weekly live presentation on Tuesday of each of the six weeks in the course. They will run for one hour and start at 3:00 PM PST / 4:00 PM MST / 5:00 PM CST / 6:00 PM EST. Unless otherwise noted, you can participate by going to and logging in as a guest. You will need at least working speakers in order to participate.

These will be recorded for viewing at your leisure, but if you are able, please consider attending the live session as well. You are welcome to invite others in or out of the course.In addition to the 6 planned events, we want to be responsible to your needs and interests.  So, we may be scheduling additional live events based upon participant interests and feedback. Also, if you want to host a live Google Hangout in order to share, learn from and connect with others, just let us know and we will add your event to the schedule. You can view the full schedule of live events by clicking on the schedule link.

2. Opportunities to earn badges (learner-content interaction)

There are a number of self-paced topical learning modules.  Each module has a theme and it provides you with an opportunity to earn a badge that represents your knowledge and skill with that theme.  All modules are optional and self-paced. The one catch is that we will only be distributing badges during the six weeks in which this course is running. Several badges are open right away and will remain open throughout the course.  Others will be opened at the end of week 3. So, you can work on several of the badges in week one, complete one or two badges a week, or choose whatever other schedule that works for you.

Please take a moment to create a free account at (a tool for verifying, managing and sharing badges). You will use your Credly login and password to earn badges in this course.  This will also allow you to display your badges on Facebook, LinkedIn, or any number of other places.  Some choose to use these as evidence of completed professional development for an employer. Or, you may find it helpful to click on the “view a quick getting started tutorial” at the top right for help getting your account set up.

3. Opportunities to have ongoing and informal sharing and connections around the course topics (learner-learner interaction)

We invite and encourage informal discussion and collaboration with your co-learners in this MOOC, your colleagues, and others in your online network.  For that reason, all of the course interaction will take place in public spaces on the web (like this blog). We have set up two collaboration spaces set up for you, but we encourage you to set up your own as well.  If you are a blogger, please share your blog here and we will develop a weekly newsletter of your blog contributions. Here is how to get set up:

  • Join the Learning Beyond Letter Grades Google+ Community – This is a public community, a place to discuss topics related to the course. All of the course discussions will take place here. While some of the modules in the course will encourage use of this area, expect the conversation to be largely informal.  You can share resources, ask questions of one another, and connect with others who share your interests.  Our hope is that this will become a community that continues well beyond the six weeks of this course. If you are not familiar with Google+, you will find this Getting Started tutorial to be helpful.
  • Create a Twitter account at Follow and post messages on Twitter using the Hash Tag #beyondlettergrades. If you have never used Twitter before, here is a simple video tutorial on using Twitter

  • You are welcome to create other places to connect online as well. If you do, please send Bernard Bull a quick message and let me know about it so that I can share it with the rest of the group.  Or, you can just announce it in the Google+ Community or on Twitter.

How much time should I devote to this course?

That is entirely up to you.  There are no formal or required assignments and no traditional grades.  Everything is optional.  To complete the readings and work necessary to earn badges, expect to spend between 1 and 3 hours per badge. The rest is up to you, whether or not you participate in the informal discussions online or watch and interact in the optional live sessions.

What if I have a question?  What type of response time can I expect if I contact the facilitator?

Bernard Bull will be checking into the course twice a day on most days of the week.  If you are enrolled in this course through, then you can contact him using the mail tool in (top right). If you are participating directly through this blog without signing up on Canvas, you are welcome to contact him using this form (also listed as “Questions” at the top of each page) or via Twitter (@bdean1000).