This semester, like many other universities, Harvard switched to a pass/fail grade model. (In typical Harvard style, we give them different names – “Emergency Satisfactory” and “Emergency Unsatisfactory” – but that doesn’t matter much).
One unexpected but happy consequence of this policy is that even though I already submitted the grades for my crypto course, I can now take the time and send students detailed feedback on their final projects. Typically, both students and faculty tend to be focused on the “bottom line” of exams or papers – what is the final grade. The comments are viewed as of marginal importance and only serve to justify why points have been deducted.
Now that there is no grade, I am actually giving many more comments on the write ups, trying to focus on giving students feedback on writing and presentation that will be useful for them later on. I benefited immensely from the extensive comments on my writing that I received from my advisor Oded Goldreich. While I will never match Oded’s thoroughness and dedication, I try to at least provide some of this to my students (though unlike Oded, I use blue and not red ink, and also do not intersperse the comments with Hebrew curses for emphasis 🙂 )