COMM 461
Spring 2015


How am I doing?

COMM 461 Home Page

I know that one of the features students like about ELMS is the grading feature. As much as I would like to use it, ELMS does not have the flexibility to accomodate my grading system for you. Despite the best efforts of a group of faculty to urge more flexibility, permitting the posting of grading methods other than numbers, the ELMS team has been unresponsive.

One of the most important motivations for student interest in the grading feature is to be able to know throughout the semester how you are doing. In fact, that is the very reason that I use the assignments and grading system I do, so students will be able to assess their progress as the semester goes along and work to raise a level of mastery that is lower than they would like. Numbers are merely numbers, but A-F or S/U on each assignment tells you immediately how you are doing, and my comments should point the way to improvement. Not only are assessment features built in all over the course, but I welcome and encourage you to come to office hours to talk about specific strategies to help you improve if the assessment indicates you need to do better. This page is designed to explain how you can use the assignments for that assessment.


The most obvious point of assessment in the class is the two mid-term examinations. I added a second mid-term a couple years ago when students indicated a single exam did not provide sufficient opportunity early in the semester to assess their progress and improve. The exams are a heavy portion of the final grade for the course and you will receive a grade on the exam A-F that will be an indicator to you of your final course grade if your work remains consistent throughout the semester.

But go to school on the exams beyond that. I devote class time to going over the exams, revealing correct answers and what makes an effective answer to essay portions of the exam. Follow these discussions. I am also more than happy to go over your short answer and essay answers with you during office hours. Although I do not grade the exams on a curve, I report the curve when we go over the exam. So, if you want to "curve" yourself against your fellow students you can do so at that time.

I am always ready to sit down with you during office hours, go over your exam carefully, and make suggestions for how to master the material that is giving you trouble.


As you know, the abstracts are primarily designed to assist you in preparing for the exams. But my feedback on them also gives you an assessment of your progress. In fact, I collect seven of these rather than more so that I have time to provide you detailed feedback to help you improve the abstracts. But I am also willing to look at additional abstracts beyond those seven at your request and will make detailed suggestions, particularly if you come to an office hour.

A "U" on the abstracts is the equivalent of an "F". An "S" is somewhere between "A" and "D". So do get your sense of how you are doing from the comments more than the "S".

The abstract exercise is very like what you will be asked to do on the essay portion of the exam, so it is a good indicator of your progress in preparing for the essay question on the exam.

Class Discussions

The discussions are another opportunity to assess your progress. Compare the discussion to your abstract. If the entire class saw lots of things that you did not see in the speech that we are discussing, perhaps you need to meet with me and discuss how to get up to the level of the discussion. I will not criticize individual students in the midst of the discussion, although I might comment on the class as a whole. So, this is a self-assessment rather than one in which I evaluate you individually.

Getting to Know the Twentieth Century

Even this assignment can give you a chance to assess how you are doing. First, you can ask yourself how easy it was to sort out what you already knew about the speaker or speech or moment you sought to augment with your choice of assignment from what you learned in doing the assignment. How easy it is to grow what you already knew into additional understanding is a measure of your progress. Second, my comments on your handed-in assignment will indicate whether you were able to articulate that new knowledge in relationship to what you learned in class.

Calculating your Semester Grade

Sometimes your question is as simple as how I calculate your grade for the semester. Each assignment is weighted in the final average, so you cannot just take an average of your grades early in the semester and figure your grade at that point with mathematical precison. But I don't think you need to do that. Just look at the grades you have received so far and you will get a sense for where you stand. (There is a complicated way to get a precise grade at a given time, but it is even too complicated for a spread sheet. I will be happy to do it for you at any point in the semester if you will see me during office hours.)

I use the following procedure in calculating your final grade:

Step 1: All letter grades are translated into equivalent numbers on the following scale: A = 11; A- = 10; B+ = 9; B = 8; B- = 7; C+ = 6; C = 5; C- = 4; D+ = 3; D = 2; D- = 1; F = 0.

Step 2: I have provided you with a weighting for each grade. The grade number value in step 1 is multiplied by the weighting factor.

Step 3: These weighted values for the grades are added together. This gives me an overall numeric value for your work.

Step 4: I translate the numeric value back into the scale in step 1. I round to the nearest number, rounding up at .5.

Step 5: I then do a survey of your overall grades and do corrections. If I find, for example, that you were a B student throughout the semester but received an F on one assignment, I will tend to discount the aberrant grade and lift you a bit on the grading scale. If the general progression of your grades are toward improvement, I will tend to lift you a bit on the grading scale. And, of course, it works the opposite way as well.

Example: Suppose a student has two midterm exams worth 20 percent each with grades of B; a semester paper worth 20 percent with an A-; a journal assignment worth 10 percent with a grade of C; and a Final exam worth 30 percent with a grade of C+. The formula would be:

(.2*8) + (.2*8) + (.2*10) + (.1*5) + (.3*6) = 1.6 + 1.6 + 2.0 + 0.5 + 1.8 = 7.5

which would round up to an 8 which is a B.

If all you want from ELMS is a place where you can go to see all your grades rather than having them on individual paper, you can download an EXCEL file for that purpose and fill it in as the semester goes along. You are test marketing his file, so let me know if something doesn't look right to you as you use it. Do notice that the grade at the bottom is only a valid indicator of your grade in the course at the end of the semester when all the assignments are in.

A Final Word

I want to encourage you to assess your progress throughout, not to limit your ability to do so. If you are having trouble doing so, please see me and I will be happy to work with you on how to assess your progress.