Educational Development Digest: March 2023

Cafeteria-Style Grading and Universal Design

Pedagogy in Practice | By Deanna Forsman, North Hennepin Community College

As the webmistress for an academic journal, I’ve been interested in accessibility issues for quite some time and I’ve been a vocal advocate for universal design in digital documents, both for students and for colleagues. However, when I came across Mayer’s Multimedia Learning theory and discovered that some of its principles directly contradicted universal design recommendations, I started wondering, do universal design principles actually benefit student learning?

Happily, the answer is yes! Cafeteria-style grading aligns quite nicely with the universal design principle that students be allowed options to demonstrate their learning. This model was developed by Goodwin and Gilbert (2001), and as the name suggests, it provides a menu of options for students to complete in order to achieve their desired grade in the course. The method intrigued me, as I had been thinking about how some of my students are able to demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes in one or two assignments, while others require far more practice.

In my classes, I’ve set up two types of assignments: required assignments and cafeteria assignments. Cafeteria assignments have three categories: Appetizers, Soups & Salads, and Entrées. Each category has a menu of options, and students complete a minimum number from each category by the end of the semester. They can do this in any order they wish at any point in the semester. While the assignments vary widely, they are designed to ensure that regardless of what students choose, they will practice developing their skills related to all of the course outcomes.

I’ve found several benefits to cafeteria-style grading. First, it’s been a key factor in shifting the narrative in my class away from points and towards student learning. If students want more points, I tell them to do more assignments, and that I’ll always give them credit for their work. Second, it has dramatically improved my success numbers, particularly among students of color. Third, it has transformed the way I approach student work. Instead of reading the same assignment over and over, I have a wide variety, which keeps me fresh and better able to engage with students’ learning.

Interested in learning more? I created an online resource, or you can join the upcoming NED Excellence in Teaching Series workshop on April 12, 2023!


Goodwin, John A., and Brian D. Gilbert. 2001. “Cafeteria-style grading in general chemistry.” Journal of Chemical Education 78 (4): 490.

Mayer, Richard E. 2014. The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. Second ed. Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Formula Grading System within D2L Brightspace

Academic Technology Tips | by Suzanne Schlangen, Business Analyst, Minnesota State Educational Development and Technology

In this month’s Academic Technology Tips, we share the possibility of assessing students with a custom formula in the gradebook within D2L Brightspace. Formulas are the most complex thing the gradebook can do, but besides that, many things it can do are hugely beneficial to facilitators and teachers.

For example, if a student can choose to complete and submit 1 of 3 assignments in the gradebook, a formula in the gradebook only pulls the student-completed assignment into the final grade. Want to know how to do this? It all has to do with understanding the grading system in D2L Brightspace.

The gradebook contains the grading system with grade items, and offers instructors a centralized overview of students’ assignments, tests, grades and participation. As an instructor, you can determine how to set up your gradebook to best reflect your approach to evaluation, including the grading system that is most appropriate for your course. The grading system can be setup as points, weighted, or formula. With the “formula” grading system, grade items use the point scheme, but a custom formula is used to set conditions as to how grade items contribute to the final grade.

What could this look like? Let’s say a course gradebook is set up to be pass or fail. The course has three assignments: Assignment 1, 2, and 3. If a student has a total score of higher than 75% on any assignment, it will count as 100%, thereby passing all three assignments. Otherwise, if the student fails to meet the 75% on any assignment, it will count as 0%, failing all three assignments.

The formula could be entered like this:

= IF {MIN{{Assignment 1.Percent], [Assignment 2.Percent], [Assignment 3.Percent] } < 75, 0, 100

In D2L Brightspace when editing the Final Calculated Grade item, click on “Edit Using the Formula Editor” to define the Formula that will calculate the final grade.

Screenshot of where to find the option to 'edit using the formula'

The availability of the custom formula in the gradebook allows for almost any scenario that instructors may use for grading. If you are interested in trying a custom formula method of calculating your final grade, I encourage you to take some time to explore it and meet with your local campus D2L support team to learn more.

Save the Date: Teach Together Minnesota!

Did You Know? | By Megan Babel, Communications Coordinator, Minnesota State Educational Development and Technology

May 16, 2023 – Registration coming soon.

Teach Together Minnesota! (TTM!) is a free, virtual conference bringing together educators from across Minnesota to have discussions with colleagues in their field of study grounded in cultural fluency and culturally relevant pedagogies. 

This is the third conference funded in part by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Grant. Moving forward, the Educational Development Committee will host a NED conference each year beginning in 2024.

Whether you have been to all TTM! conferences or missed the opportunity to join, here are some highlights from the previous conferences and what is to come from the 2023 TTM! conference on May 16.


Over 225 participants joined! View recordings from the keynote and student panel:


Over 365 participants joined! View recordings from the keynote, student panel, and plenary sessions:

Discipline-Specific Faculty Learning Communities

Faculty from Minnesota State have come together with other colleagues in their field of study in discipline-specific faculty learning communities, exploring a topic with a tangible outcome. Faculty received individual pedagogical support from an equity coach and instructional designer.

These are the disciplines and number of faculty who have participated (watch for more disciplines through Spring 2024):

  • Accounting – 11
  • Biology – 22
  • Business, Marketing, and Management – 20
  • Chemistry – 16
  • Computer Science/MIS – 4
  • Cross-Discipline – 21
  • Economics – 5
  • Education – 14
  • English – 20
  • Health and Exercise Science – 10
  • History – 12
  • Mass Communication – 5
  • Math – 15
  • Peace Officer Programs – 18
  • Psychology – 19
  • Sociology – 17
  • Theater and Performing Arts – 6

2023 Teach Together Minnesota!

At this year’s TTM! we will share some key take-aways from the Discipline-Specific Faculty Learning Communities. Hear directly from faculty about their applied practices and action plans, and connect this important work to Equity by Design and Minnesota State Guided Learning Pathways.

Mark your calendars for the 2023 TTM! conference on May 16, 2023. Registration will be available soon on the NED Events Calendar.


Educational Development and Technology, Minnesota State.

View past editions of the Educational Development Digest.

Visit the NED Events Calendar to view upcoming educational development opportunities. Visit the NED Resource Site for recordings of previous webinars and additional resources.

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