This is a short blog to support the idea of using tokens in the college classroom.
A loose definition of a token as used here is a virtual unit issued to students that can be redeemed to support success in a course. Common uses are that students can redeem course tokens in exchange for deadline extensions, excused absences, or attempts to revise and resubmit work.
Much of the use of tokens appears to be tied to practitioners of specification- and standards-based grading, with Linda Nilson suggesting tokens as a key component of her model of specifications grading. Relevant resources from Linda Nilson include a link to her specifications-based grading book and a link to an Inside Higher Ed article of hers discussing specification grading and tokens.
The notion of tokens is a net positive along a number of axes in my opinion:
- Providing a fair means of dealing with late homework, makeup tests, and related issues. All students are likely to encounter some issue when participating in a class – car trouble, a morning of oversleeping, getting sick, and needing to return to family are a few instances I’ve encountered. Instead of a faculty member having to make a decision on a student-by-student basis, weighting which issues are worthy of a makeup, tokens allow for a fair and simple policy to be implemented. They are fair in the sense that all students receive the same number of initial tokens and can apply them as needed. The faculty member is not required to determine which excuses are “worthy” of allowing a late submission or makeup (an often subjective task). In addition, a “no questions asked” policy for submitting tokens, where students just request to use a token instead of having to provide an excuse, allows students increased privacy.
- Providing a means to support self-regulation in the students. Assuming there are only a handful of tokens that can be made use of in a given semester, students must take into account their own learning trajectory over the rest of the semester when deciding when to make use of tokens.
I made use of tokens in my “Parallel Computation” course last semester (Spring 2017) at Wake Forest. Students were given 5 tokens at the beginning of the semester. A 48-hours “no questions asked” extension to any programming project was provided at the cost of one token (there were 8 programming projects in the course, for which the students were given around 10 days to complete each one). At the end of the semester, each token a student had remaining could be used as additional homework points at a rate of 1 token equivalent to 1.5 homework points. If a student did not use any tokens, redeeming all 5 ended up being the equivalent of accounting for 2 missed homeworks, and homework points were used to determine whether students received +/- grades on top of their A, B, C, D, or F grade earned from mastering course standards. Approximately half the class made use of a token on one or more programming projects.
Some approaches to using tokens only provide students a fixed number of tokens, while other approaches allow additional tokens to be earned in the course, through means such as completing additional practice work or completing work early (incentivizing good study behaviors and engagement with the material) or through means such as attending extra-curricular events (a STEM career session, a library research training workshop, etc).
I was initially inspired to use token by reading the work of Robert Talbert (Grand Valley State Mathematics). An example of his early use of tokens is here, and he continues to make use of tokens, with a recent approach allowing students to use tokens to have additional opportunities to revise and resubmit work and to demonstrate mastery of topic.
Kate Owens (College of Charleston Mathematics) is implementing in Fall 2017 a token economy in her introductory calculus course. Her token economy follows the general ideas of others (allowing deadline extensions, allowing revisions, acting as extra credit at the end of the semester), but she is also making use of (new to me) variable costs where more tokens are required to make up a quiz than to obtain a homework extension.
Nora Sullivan (Citrus College Biology) is also making use of something new to me — the idea of both individual tokens and lab group tokens for her Molecular and Cellular Biology course that includes a lab (the source for this was her syllabus as posted on a Google+ Specification and Standards Based Grading community).
Both the faculty member and students should be able to easily determine the number of tokens a student has left, so it is helpful to make use of a gradebook which supports recording such information. I made use of sharing of grade and token information through a Google spreadsheet in my Spring course, though any LMS which records numerical grades should be able to keep track of this information.
In my Spring 2017 offering, requests to use a token were submitted informally (via email), though I think I may like to use something more formal (such as completing a Google Form) in the future. In addition to providing one central place for me to find requested token usage (instead of having to search through my email), I could also request in the form some additional information. For example, if a student is doing a re-assessment of mastery of a topic, I could ask the student for a few sentences explaining the mistakes they made on the original assessment.