Course Contract

Contract Grading and Peer Evaluation:  Explanation and Contract

adapted from course contract written by Cathy N. Davidson (Duke

For informational purposes only. Only signed, hard-copy contracts are binding.

Evaluation Method:
You determine your grade for this course by fulfilling a contract that explains in advance the requirements (described below). You choose whether to work towards an A, B, or C. All assignments are graded Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory, but students who contract for higher grades will have to complete more assignments. Weekly assignments are graded by peer leaders who design and evaluate assignments (described below). If a student fails to submit an assignment or does not submit a satisfactory revision after being given careful feedback, the instructor or peer leader will record a U grade for that assignment. Every student will be in a position of peer-grader once this semester. Learning together, giving and receiving feedback, is a subject we will discuss in depth. It is the single most valuable life skill you can take away from this course.

Contract Grading:
The advantage of contract grading is that you, the student, decide how much work you wish to do this semester; if you complete that work on time and satisfactorily, you will receive the grade for which you contracted. This means planning ahead, thinking about all of your obligations and responsibilities this semester and also determining what grade you want or need in this course.  If you complete the work you contracted for, you get the grade. Done. I respect the student who only needs a C, who has other obligations that preclude doing all of the requirements to earn an A in the course, and who contracts for the C and carries out the contract perfectly. (This is another one of those major life skills: taking responsibility for your own workflow.)

On our second class session, each student will sign, with a classmate as a witness, a contract for a grade. I will countersign and we will each keep a copy of your contract. In addition, you will be given an individualized online and physical grade reporting sheet. You are responsible for ensuring that your reporting sheets are up-to-date and accurate, and you are responsible for bringing any discrepancies to the instructor’s attention. All requirements and penalties for each grade are spelled out below.

There are only two grades for any assignment: Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory. Satisfactory is full credit.  Unsatisfactory (poor quality, late, or not submitted) is no credit.   At the end of the course, we tally. If you fail to do a contracted assignment or your work is not deemed satisfactory, you will receive the grade penalty spelled out in the contract.

Peers (details below) who are in charge of leading a class unit will determine if the assignments completed each week are satisfactory. If not, they will give extensive and thoughtful feedback for improvement with the aim of collaborating toward Satisfactory work. The goal is for everyone to produce satisfactory work, and the peer leaders will work with students to achieve that goal.

Attendance is voluntary. There is never any reason to contact the professor about absences. However, much of the work for this course will involve in-class activities and assignments. If you miss an in-class activity, you must complete an at-home make-up assignment in order to receive credit. The at-home assignments will always be more work and will consume more time than in-class activities.

All students must contribute weekly to our class WordPress site, visible to the general public. Because the blog is publicly viewable, under no circumstances may you use your full name; use your first name or a pseudonym. There will be a comments section where you will receive public feedback from the instructor, any of the other students, and the three or four students leading and assessing that particular unit.

Blogs must be completed by midnight the night before the class session.  All students are required to read the blogs by their classmates before class and are encouraged to comment in writing as well as in class discussion. Blogs are substantive, should use secondary sources where appropriate, and can use video, sound, images, animation as well as text.

  • If you have contracted for a ‘C’, you may receive a ‘U’ on four weekly assignments.
  • If you have contracted for a ‘B’, you may receive a ‘U’ on two weekly assignments.
  • If you have contracted for an ‘A’, you may not receive a ‘U’ on any assignment.

Penalty: If you receive a ‘U’ on more weekly assignments than allowed by your contract, your final grade will drop by a half grade for each assignment missed or failed over that limit. 

Students will work in teams of three or four and will be responsible for a module, a unit of work that will occupy us for two class sessions. Typically, students will make a presentation, guide a reading, or conduct a field trip one class and then will do follow up in-class assignment on the second class. Think of ways to make your presentation as interactive, engaged, thoughtful, and inspiring as possible.

For peer-led sessions:

  • Begin by settling on a reading assignment for the class.  You may order books or decide on articles, websites, or other readings. All readings must be assigned in class and then posted on the class blog a week in advance of your unit meeting. Your readings must include both selections from the historical period known as The Enlightenment (1640-1820) and from the recent past (roughly 1990 to the present).
  • You will make arrangements for any trips or screenings.
  • You will construct a class presentation that is as interactive as you can make it.
  • You will design as assignment that helps the class engage your material. This may be a prompt for a short (400-500) word essay posted to the blog or some other media equivalent.
  • You will design an alternative assignment for any student who fails to attend class during your unit or for any student who turns in their work late. This alternative assignment should be roughly twice as long as the primary assignment.
  • You will be responsible for reading all of the blogs (or the alternative assignments) by your peers and writing substantive feedback on each one, viewable by all in the class.
  • You will file the S or U grade for each student’s work with the professor. If a student receives a U, it is your responsibility to offer constructive feedback and an opportunity for the student to turn that into a Satisfactory piece of work. NOTE: You are not allowed to grade Unsatisfactory work as Satisfactory. You will not pass this assignment unless you require all your peers to complete the work you assign.
  • All grades must be finalized within 3 weeks of the assignment’s due date.
  • Before your session, post your lesson plan on our Blackboard syllabus to document what you will do as a peer leader. If your plan changed, you must edit the syllabus to reflect what actually happened.
  • You must submit a written description, in hard copy, of your personal contributions to your group’s work.

It is expected that you will complete the above independently. If you need to reserve space or get access to materials, you may consult the professor. In order to fulfill your contract you must do all of these satisfactorily. You will not receive a passing grade for this assignment unless you hold your peers to the high standards of a 300-level college course.

Penalty:   Failure will result in a half grade deduction from the final grade.

In addition to the above, students who wish to earn a grade of B must also participate in the final conference.

During or around our final exam meeting time, we will conduct a class conference. In order to receive credit for this assignment, you must complete one of the assigned roles, described below. Students may volunteer for an administrative role (3a, 3b, 3c, 3d), but the professor will be responsible for assigning administrative roles. All students will have the option of completing a presentation (3e) and under no circumstances will the professor require that any individual student take an administrative role.

(3a) Conference organizer (limit 2 students). You are responsible for ensuring that the conference is a success. You must assemble the program, find an appropriate space, and arrange for a simple reception. This means you’ll need to write a call for papers and a description of the conference, complete a budget, research potential funding sources, etc. You also must set policies for paper submission and acceptance, determine formats, etc. Your call for papers must articulate a clear set of criteria that set a high bar of scholarly achievement for acceptance. You are responsible for organizing a committee of administrative staff (3a, 3b, 3c, 3d) to evaluate all paper proposals (see 3e, below). You may not accept a project for presentation until its proposal meets the requirements set by the call for papers. The call for papers must be released to the class no later than November 5. It should identify an overarching theme that directly relates to the course, while specifying possible presentation formats and topics. Proposals should be due no later than November 15. Proposals that are initially graded Unsatisfactory should be given an opportunity to revise and resubmit. If any proposal continues to be Unsatisfactory after resubmission, organizers should consult the professor. You will also evaluate the contributions of all other students and alert the professor if any are failing to complete their assigned roles.

(3b) Conference promotion (limit 4 students). You are responsible for web design and advertising, including public relations, printed flyers, and social media. You must write previews of the conference and share them widely. You must make a demonstrable concerted effort to boost attendance, especially from faculty, and you must “live Tweet” the conference as it proceeds. You must blog about the conference on public sites like You are responsible for providing feedback on the call for papers and contributing to the evaluation of submissions, according to the instructions provided by the conference organizer(s). You are responsible for creating the conference website, which should link to the proceedings website (see 3d). In general, it is expected that you will make yourself available to the conference organizers for administrative help they may need.

(3c) Video production and podcasting (limit 4 students). You are responsible for creating a high-quality promotion video (“trailer”) that describes the conference and explains its topic while highlighting a few key presentations. The trailer must be engaging, smart, and fun, and must be completed and ready for public viewing no later than a week before the conference. You are also responsible for live-streaming the conference, recording all presentations, and ensuring that all videos are successfully incorporated into the conference website. You are responsible for providing feedback on the call for papers and contributing to the evaluation of submissions, according to the instructions provided by the conference organizer(s). You are also required to provide technical support for the conference and, in advance, to help any presenter who wishes to include a multimedia component in her or his presentation.

(3d) Conference proceedings editor (limit 4 students). You are responsible for completing a web edition of the select proceedings of the conference. You must solicit approximately 4-5 of the best proposals for publication. You first must solicit manuscripts for publication and secure permission from the authors to publish their work. You must create a website that gathers these papers into a coherent group as well as write an introductory essay that explains what they have in common. The papers or multimedia presentations must be carefully proofread, fact-checked, and edited. They must cite secondary research and avoid all forms of plagiarism. They must not contain any statements that are demonstrably untrue, offensive, or intellectually vacuous. In their final form, these should be the best, A+ quality research projects.

Ideally there should be about 6-10 students who take on the above administrative roles (3a, 3b, 3c, 3d). If not enough students volunteer for these roles, or if not enough students choose to be participants in the conference, the professor may assist with the administration of the conference.

(3e) Presenter. You are responsible for presenting an original piece of scholarship that conforms to the call for papers, issued by the conference organizers. You must submit a proposal describing your scholarly project before the due date. If your proposal is late or fails to meet the expectations of the conference organizers and the professor, your final project will be rejected. If your paper is accepted, you must present your work at the conference. In order to receive a grade of Satisfactory, it must meet the scholarly standard described in the call for papers. On the day of the conference, you must submit your research to the professor in hard copy or other textual form. If your presentation fails to meet the level of scholarly achievement promised in your proposal, you will receive a grade of Unsatisfactory. If your proposal is rejected from the conference after two revision attempts, you must consult with the instructor to arrange an alternative.

If your paper is chosen to be included in the conference proceedings, you must submit a first draft to the editors no later than December 6. You must complete all requested revisions no later than December 16.

PenaltyFailure to contribute satisfactorily to the final conference will result in a full grade deduction from the total course grade.

In addition to the above requirements for the B-level, students who wish to earn a grade of A must also complete these additional assignments.

Each student is required to make two substantive and different contributions to a significant public resource.

(4a) Public contribution can take the form of substantive contribution to a Wikipedia article, a detailed comment on a New York Times or other major media outlet, or a letter to The Daily Gamecock, The Free Times, or The State. It could also involve a thoughtful book review on a site like You might create a website or post a video that discusses a topic related to our class discussions. You might participate in a public reading or other intellectual event, or you might attend such an event and publicly review it.

(4b) The second contribution to public knowledge has the same requirements as the first (4a) but should stretch you in a different direction. (4b) cannot be on the same topic or in the same format as (4a).

The student is responsible for documenting their public contributions and submitting that documentation in hard copy to the professor no later than November 19.

Penalty:  Both public contributions must be completed. Failure to complete both will result in a half grade deduction from the final grade. (You will receive no credit for completing only one. Both must be completed in order to avoid the penalty.)


Instead of a traditional midterm exam, the class will, collectively and using Blackboard’s wiki, create a concise post tying together key lessons and insights about enlightenment studied in the first half of the class. They will then transfer the finished blog to a new website, and will conduct a social media campaign to draw attention to the blog through their own various social networks.  The instructor will open the wiki on October 15 with the challenge topic: “Can information set us free?” However, students are invited to change the topic in the course of their discussion. By midnight October 16, the blog must be posted to an original website hosted by

This is an exercise in collective thinking, leadership, and project management.   Everyone must contribute but remember our motto in this course is “collaboration by difference.” Each student must submit to the professor a written description of how he or she contributed.  It could be anything from organizing the outline for the entry to managing flaring tempers to being the chief writer or the chief proofreader (or maybe you are the person who recognized the need for pizza and brought it in at the 11th hour so everyone succeeded in finishing the task).

Students can decide to meet together physically in the room during the regular class time and assign tasks.  Or you can do this entirely by distance.  You can begin on October 15 or you can start plotting in advance (and even petition the professor to open the wiki early). By this point in the semester, you will have read many blog posts and other assignments by your classmates; you will have a sense for one another’s strengths.  You can plan your collective blog post to take advantage of those.  The post should be significant, between 1500 and 2500 words. Disagreements (in the manner of Wikipedia), rather than consensus, are allowed. Secondary sources should be used in the manner of a Wikipedia entry. You might want to check out a wikipedia entry on a similar topic to gain a sense of how you may or may not want to organize your own contribution:

In class on Tuesday, October 29, each student must submit a written description, in hard copy, to the professor describing her or his contribution to the midterm wiki’s production and promotion. (NOTE: Be prepared. This is a much tougher assignment than you might think!)     

Penalty: Failure to make a significant, identifiable contribution to the midterm wiki will result in a half grade deduction from the final grade. If the group fails to complete the midterm successfully at a very high quality, they will be given two chances to revise. If they fail on the third try, all participants will receive the grade penalty.


Each student must contribute a final essay, either written (500-1000 words), video, or infographic, that describes what he or she learned in English 382. The reflective essay must be posted to the course blog no sooner than December 1 and no later than midnight before the conference.

Penalty: Failure to complete the final reflective essay will result in a half grade deduction from the total course grade.

Students who wish to revise their contract up (from a lower grade to a higher grade) may appeal to the instructor to do so by creating a video that explains what they have learned in the course and posting that video to the course website. The video must make a compelling argument about why the student should be allowed to revise her or his contract. If the video is creative, detailed, well researched, and well designed, the instructor may agree to revise the contract. Contract revision is solely at the instructor’s discretion.

Under no circumstances will a student be allowed to revise their grade down.



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