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The University of Michigan’s Academic Reporting Tool released its grade distribution feature over the weekend, allowing students to explore grade distributions of courses before registration. The new feature caters to the voices of many students, according to Innovation Advocacy Lead Amy Homkes-Hayes.
“As you can imagine, students have asked for us to show course information in a University-sanctioned tool,” Homkes-Hayes said.
The Office of Academic Innovation created ART 2.0 in 2016 and has been adding new features and mechanisms to aid students ever since, listing 9,273 University courses. The Office of Academic Innovation works closely with the Office of the Provost, individual schools and colleges, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and Central Student Government to identify what kind of academic data would be most helpful to the student body.
Homkes-Hayes referred to ART 2.0 as a helpful tool that attempts to bust myths that students cannot do well in certain classes. With this data, students can evaluate the difficulty of courses and evaluate when they should take a course and how to best build a schedule that works for them.
“When we talk about ART 2.0, one of the things we talk about is myth-busting,” Homkes-Hayes said. “Our intent to show (grade distributions) was because students demonstrated they wanted to see it and we can de-mysticize any information about how grades are distributed.”
The ART 2.0 team worked directly with Vice Provost James Holloway’s office in order to develop the tool and utilize accurate data. For example, they will only show substantiated data in classes with enough information to do so in regards to instructor ratings and scores so in a class with fewer grade samples, the distribution doesn’t deter students from registering for certain classes with smaller class size caps.
“We are being really intentional about what has been shown and we will follow the guidelines of the Provost’s office in order to do so,” Homkes-Hayes said.
The Office of Academic Innovation continually engages with students and faculty to identify the future areas where they can help students. Homkes-Hayes mentioned potential alumni data for showing students pathways they can take following degree completion as an idea for future ART 2.0 updates.
Engineering junior Kevin Zheng works with the program, analyzing the data ART 2.0 collects and comparing the grades between schools, subjects and courses. He also works to improve interfaces for instructors to get feedback from students. Zheng pointed out the workload metric could provide skewed results because students in difficult, lower-level courses have a high proportion of students rating it as “high workload” but higher-level, more self-selective courses are less likely to have this workload rating.”
“Providing grade distributions is especially useful because students can use it in conjunction with the workload metric,” Zheng wrote. “In some situations, the workload metric is less useful under the assumption that students in different levels of a subject may perceive workload differently. Grade distributions help to reduce some of this uncertainty.”
Zheng uses ART 2.0 during backpacking and registration and said the new grade distribution element helps him evaluate which courses to take. He checks ART’s student evaluations, instruction evaluations, class size outputs and which courses students take before or during this course.
“I use ART during backpacking and registration all the time,” Zheng wrote. “Grade distributions would fit nicely into my workflow using ART to evaluate whether a course is a good fit for me. I imagine myself looking at the grade distributions to help balance my workload so that I don’t overload myself.”
Despite excitement from students, faculty members have historically had some concerns about the tool, which was originally only available to faculty members. When the original tool premiered in 2016, SACUA member and Kinesiology Professor Stephen Symanski said he was worried the effectiveness of ART 2.0 would change when it opened to user input.
“Among people of goodwill, there are never problems really,” Szymanski said. “But sadly, we are not 100 percent goodwill.”
According to Tim McKay, LSA professor and director of the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, some faculty members also think making grade distribution data available may lead students to chose classes based solely on that information.
“There is little evidence, on any campus, that this actually happens, but I think it's a well intended concern,” McKay wrote in an email to The Daily. “Personally, I trust students to consider information like this wisely — at least as wisely as anyone would. So I'm happy to see that ART 2.0 is now releasing reliable, authoritative information about grades to all students.”
Though no faculty members have publically voiced concerns about the newest iteration, Tim McKay, LSA professor and director of the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, tweeted about the update, saying though “not everyone agrees,” he was proud of the tool and its new feature.
ART 2.0 designer Mike Wojan discussed the importance of user feedback in the design process in an email interview. Each semester, ART 2.0 invites students to come and discuss the tool and give feedback for improvement. Wojan emphasized the importance of feedback in helping their development and encourages students to use the new feedback button on the top of every course page.
“Grade distributions have been one of our most commonly requested features from the student community, so we’re excited to provide this new functionality to campus,” Wojan wrote in an email interview. “We’re always looking for new opportunities to improve our products… That feedback is very important to us.”
Wojan said the most difficult part of development is compiling data for courses, instructors and majors and presenting it to students in a meaningful way. Their team of engineering experts makes each element of the program come together.
“The goal of ART 2.0 is to provide students access to the data they need to make more informed decisions about their academic careers,” Wojan wrote. “The grade distribution summary is the latest tool we’ve added to help students develop a more realistic expectation of what it might be like to take that class.”
Editor’s Note: The Daily has also released its own grading distribution guide.