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UB, partners awarded $2 million to study equitable grading in computer education


Tue, Mar 14th 2023 03:25 pm

National Science Foundation grant will support work that maximizes learning & job opportunities, Higgins says

By the University at Buffalo 

Researchers from the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have partnered with two universities to administer a collaborative $2 million grant to promote equitable and inclusive grading practices in the computing education community.

Working with Virginia Tech and University of North Carolina at Charlotte, UB’s department of engineering education will be the lead institution for this grant awarded by the National Science Foundation. UB’s share is $770,000, and work on the five-year grant will begin June 1.

Congressman Brian Higgins said, “The need for workers with advanced computer skills continues to grow and evolve. This project, made possible through a $2 million federal grant, employs methods to better maximize learning and ultimately job opportunities for everyone. I commend the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences for its leadership and partnership in this effort.”

“We are going to use this project to assist faculty in adopting equitable grading practices in their computer science classrooms,” said Adrienne Decker, Ph.D., associate professor of engineering education, and also an adjunct professor in UB’s department of computer science and engineering. “We want to build resources and reduce barriers of adoption of these techniques, which have been shown to better support student learning.”

Decker added, “Most computing instructors grade assignments by deducting points for incorrect behaviors and outputs of programs. Grading practices that rely on point deductions can discourage student achievement and can be influenced by implicit bias that disproportionately impacts students from low socioeconomic background and students of color. The use of equitable and inclusive grading practices has been shown to promote better self-regulation of student learning and can easily be adopted by instructors given proper training and support.”

Decker will work with a team of collaborators, including Stephen Edwards, Ph.D., professor in the department of computer science at Virginia Tech; and Manuel Pérez-Quiñones, Ph.D., professor of software and information systems at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The team will work with faculty cohorts looking to adopt these practices, and will support this adoption through a community of practice model.

Within this community of practice, faculty who have more experience with these techniques will help new faculty adopt them, and everyone will be sharing best practices throughout the process, Decker said.

Decker credited her study of equitable grading practices to her Ph.D. adviser, William J. Rapaport, associate professor emeritus in the UB department of computer science and engineering.

“This work incorporates many of the ideas he used in his courses and taught to me during my time as a Ph.D. student,” she said. “Being able to bring these ideas to so many others and to work to support them in using these practices is something I have been dreaming of doing since I was first exposed to them as a student myself. I am very much looking forward to working with my collaborators on this project.”

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