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Why Distance Learning is Changing the Way You Grade

Educational institutions are adopting online learning all over the world. In online learning, students don't have to come to school. Instead, they attend online meetings via meeting platforms like Google Meet and Zoom to receive teachers' lessons, also known as virtual or distance learning. 

However, as both teachers and students experience online learning's unique characteristics, one question emerges: by changing our learning method from regular in-person classes to distance learning, should we also be grading our students differently?

Grading School Assignments

To understand how grading works in online classes, we have to define grading. Grading is a measure of how well a student understands the lessons or how well they master a skill they've learned and practiced in class.

With transparent and fair grading, the student will know what to improve upon with the next assignment. With data already recorded, the teacher will have an easier time helping the student succeed. Grading serves as a direct output of the student's effort throughout the semester.

Students start from the point of unknown. Teachers provide students with lessons and guidance and do it interestingly and engagingly. The teacher will then give students assignments and, eventually, an exam to determine how well they mastered all the lessons.

The assignments and exams are ways to grade the students' understanding. It's a by-product of all the processes of learning, whether virtual or in-person.

Reasons Why Online Grading Should be Different

Teachers should be grading online classes differently because the challenges involved in online courses are different from regular in-person classes. Here are three main reasons why teachers should grade online class assignments differently.

Inefficient Structure

Online classes are not as efficient as regular face-to-face classes. The fact that you and your students aren't physically in the same room changes many things. This is a fundamental challenge to the way we grade in distance learning.

Instead of a room full of people discussing the current lesson, students get a silent chorus of muted microphones even though there are 30 people in the class. Then the teacher speaks with a garbled voice, sounding slightly unnatural because of the microphone quality and internet connection. The teacher opens up their PowerPoint slide as students struggle to pay attention.

All these nuances create a different atmosphere than the students' experience in a regular class. This atmosphere will directly affect the students' motivation to learn, lesson engagement, and knowledge transfer. They are ultimately lowering online classes' overall efficiency.

The Solution

Of course, as a teacher, you should try your best to make online classes enjoyable and efficient. However, online classes will never match the efficiency of regular face-to-face classes. This is why you should offset that inefficiency by grading liberally with an edge towards student participation. Reward students who actively ask questions to incentivize them to be active in online classes. Make use of online meeting app features such as live backgrounds, raise hand buttons, and breakout rooms to create a more classroom-like vibe.

Lesson Pacing

In a regular class, the students attend classes daily. Each day, students advance to the next lesson. Whenever someone struggles to understand the lesson, they could ask their teacher or friends because they're in the same room. Unfortunately, that's not the case with online classes. Students are isolated from their peers.

In an online class, the progress of "catching up" lessons becomes harder and slower. That problem is compounded with the daily progress that the student has to make, plus all the assignments. It's hard for the teacher to check that everyone is on the same page. One misstep, the student gets trampled and left behind as others march forward. Additionally, students may be afraid to speak up. With the technology barrier between you and a student, they may not approach you to slow down or repeat the lesson's principle.

The Solution

Give more time for the students to review their lessons and complete assignments. Don't give daily assignments. Make assignment deadlines longer, preferably a week. Give fewer assignments, but make it slightly "hefty." That way, they can take their time and focus on more meaningful projects over busy work. Create a lesson review once a week to make sure everyone is on the same page. Offer students extra time to ask questions outside the online class and during your set office hours. 

Technology Issues

Technical error is the bane of online learning. Many things can go wrong—servers, internet outage, device lag, microphone malfunction, out-of-focus cameras, and more. Additionally, not all students and teachers are tech-savvy people.

As a teacher, it's your job to learn as much as you can about your basic computer hardware, online meeting apps, and internet settings. That way, you can help your students who experience technical difficulty.

The Solution

Try creating tutorial videos to help students who frequently need help with their internet or logins. Accessible resources will save you time and the headache of assisting a student every day. 

The worst thing that could happen from technical difficulty is students missing the assignment deadline date or missing the final exam. If these things happen, don't outright disqualify your student. Instead, ask them what's wrong, see what can be fixed or improved. Give your student a second chance to submit the work. 


As online teaching becomes the new normal, a new way of grading needs also to be introduced. Grading is a measure of a students' mastery of the lesson. Grading is a by-product of the learning system and the teacher's ability to teach their students. If we're changing how we learn by adopting virtual learning, we should also change the way we grade.

Between inefficiencies, pacing problems, and technology issues, your class needs a different approach to be successful. Pivot the way you evaluate to focus on learning over criteria. 

By adjusting your grading this way, you can turn your online class's weaknesses into a "quirk" instead of a negative. Students will have a great time attending online classes, and teachers won't stress every time their students get a low grade.

Written by Rachel Jones

Education World Contributor

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