This class is going to be highly collaborative. It’s also going to include a lot of reflection and a lot of challenges. None of those three elements can be done easily in an environment where you’re also concerned about points and grades. Moreover, you’re all entering this class with different levels of ability and interests, and to hold you all to the same objective standard when you are all coming at the topic from different places seems counterproductive. You’re also at a stage in your academic life where you’re expected to do your own work and take ownership of it, and I want to encourage that.

I assume you’re at least marginally interested in the antebellum military, but I don’t assume you have any technological knowledge (though you have more than you realize). So some things in this class are going to be intimidating or even anxiety-inducing.

Because I believe that points and grades are needlessly restrictive on your intellectual curiosity and are needlessly punitive, we’re not going to be using the typical A = 90%-100% etc. grading scale.

Instead, we’re going to be using a system called “consultative grading.” I first learned of this system through a professor of my own, Ryan Cordell at Northeastern University. We’re going to be following his system.

How does this work?

Instead of giving you grades, I’m going to give you feedback. You’re going to give yourself the grade, but not till the end of the semester. You’ll be reflecting on your own effort and progress at several points throughout the semester, and at the end of the semester, in your final reflection, you’ll tell me the grade you think you deserve. And I’ll give you that grade.*

Every contract has commitments from both parties, and our contract is no exception. In order to help you learn and grow in this class, here are the things I commit to:

  1. I will give timely and substantive feedback on your work, with the goal of increasing your confidence in the topic and the technology.
  2. I will be available to help you throughout the weeks via online means, via scheduled office hours or our class Slack group.
  3. I will not assume any technical skills or expertise; instead, I will work with you starting from where you are.
  4. I will respect your ideas and your person; though I may challenge you, I will always do it from a position of learning and respect, never denigrating you.
  5. I will help you adapt and regroup if things don’t go the way you expected.

Likewise, in order for this to work, you must agree to these things:

  1. Do your best. Hold yourself to a high standard of work, in both your project and your class participation.
  2. Contribute to the intellectual life of the class. This means engaging in good-faith discussion and participating in all aspects of the class.
  3. Be courageous. You may be nervous about elements of this class, but with my help and if you work hard (see number 1), you can overcome.
  4. Keep an open mind. Your classmates and I welcome your disagreement or confusion, but go into every project and class period thinking “What can I learn?” not “What is not good here?”
  5. Be flexible. This is an online course. A lot of things could go wrong. A lot of things about your project could go wrong. Commit to rolling with the punches and finding new ways forward.
  6. Work well with others. In group work during class and certainly as you work in a group for your final project, be respectful of your colleagues’ ideas and person. Respect others by finishing your tasks on time if at all possible, since your work and theirs are inextricably linked.
  7. Meet with me virtually two times this semester to discuss your ideas and progress.

Notice that a “successful” project does not factor into this contract at all. It may be that your project doesn’t work at all, and that’s ok. We can still learn from failures; in fact, sometimes that’s the way we learn best. But we’re going to be working through your projects incrementally throughout the semester, so I hope you’ll have something to show for it by the end of the semester.

What happens if we don’t agree on your performance in the class?

First of all, I assume that you will be honest and reflective in your self-feedback. You’ll also be getting feedback from your peers throughout the semester which will inform your own self-evaluation. That said, if I strongly disagree with the grade you’ve given yourself, I do reserve the right to give you a different grade after we discuss the situation together.