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202: Ungrade Upgrade with Ryan Kough



Experimenting with different types of grading structures has been a hugely important part of my teaching for the last six years. Since 2018 I’ve been reading and learning and testing and tweaking to better understand how to better grade (or not grade) students.


I spoke with today’s guest earlier this year about her gallery show and community printmaking adventures. But she’s also is an avid ungrader, so I absolutely looked forward to the conversation you’re about to hear where we dive into this topic deep. 


Today’s guest is Ryan Kough, a neurodivergent artist and design educator who focuses on participatory community-driven design initiatives. As an experimental printmaker, Ryan facilitates public spaces where participants can play through artistic experimentation and meditative processes with intentional compassion and empathy toward positive creative outlets for those participating.


As a community revitalization advocate, she believes in design as a creative tool for social activism.


As a first generation college student with undiagnosed ADHD, Ryan found the college classroom to be a challenging place to engage, participate, or even learn. Two decades later, Ryan now works to empower students to find their passion and put their unique skills and talents to use. As an educator, she works to create spaces for students and community partners to share authentic conversations while collaborating in a team environment. She sees the classroom as an open space for sharing, making, and agreeing to disagree where all types of learners can join forces to work with the communities we live and work in. 


For the last 10 years Ryan has developed, designed, and redesigned the Integrated Media Arts Program at Juniata College. There she runs the IMA Studio, an interdisciplinary studio focused on community engaged learning. Students in the program design real-world solutions that meet the needs of local community partners. With the hope to make a positive contribution to future designers, Ryan has strived to educate the next generation of designers in the most meaningful way, teaching each student ways to use their imagination to make a difference in the world in addition to their local communities.


Just before we get into the episode, I’d like to read a quick children’s book. As many of you know I feel that books speak to me at opportune moments and just after Ryan and I recorded our conversation I scooted over to help out with my kids school book fair. It was there that I found this little gem called This is a School (with words by John Schu and illustrations by Veronica Miller Jamison) and it embodies so much of what my conversation with Ryan was all about.


In the conversation you’re about to hear, Ryan zooms out to discuss the WHY of ungrading and then zooms in to discuss the HOW of ungrading. You’ll hear why Ryan began ungrading, as well as how she defines ungrading.


We talk about the magic of student agency, true experiential learning and facilitating opportunities that shape the students and the educators who participate. You’ll hear ways in which community-engaged learning and ungrading can be interwoven. You’ll hear how Ryan establishes a final grade and how she handles fair work share amongst a group, sharing the practical application of shifting the classroom away from control and breaking down hierarchical structures and ensuring all voices know they have equal merit.


One final note is that I want to preface the episode by saying that this is just one way of many in which evaluation in a classroom can happen. I’m not placing judgement on those who grade using more traditional frameworks; in fact, I have used three different categories of grading structures in my courses this year alone (traditional grading, specifications grading, and a fully self graded course). You’ll hear Ryan and I share our experiences and reasons why we believe ungrading is an amazing framework, but that’s not to say that the opposite is ‘wrong’. There’s room for multiple perspectives and my hope is that this way of understanding what a ungraded classroom can look like provides a different perspective to what many of us are accustomed to. My hope is that you can listen to this episode with curiosity, an open heart and an open mind.


Let’s listen in…


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Ryan’s Ungrading Resources:


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About Our Guest:

Ryan Kough is a neurodivergent artist and design educator who focuses on participatory community-driven design initiatives. As an experimental printmaker, Ryan facilitates public spaces where participants can play through artistic experimentation and meditative processes with intentional compassion and empathy toward positive creative outlets for those participating.


As a community revitalization advocate, she believes in design as a creative tool for social activism.


As a first generation college student with undiagnosed ADHD, Ryan found the college classroom to be a challenging place to engage, participate, or even learn. Two decades later, Ryan now works to empower students to find their passion and put their unique skills and talents to use. As an educator, she works to create spaces for students and community partners to share authentic conversations while collaborating in a team environment. She sees the classroom as an open space for sharing, making, and agreeing to disagree where all types of learners can join forces to work with the communities we live and work in. 


RESEARCH Her recent research has been driven by her personal experiences as a student turned academic. As an educator and academic scholar Ryan has presented and published on topics ranging from alternative assessment, the importance of slow creative practices, ending grind culture, co-mentoring writing and design students, civically driven design curriculum, and sustainable community partnerships among other topics. Recent contributions to international publications include Collective Dialogues on Motherhood for Feminist Futures by the Design Research Society, in Bilboa, Spain and Ungrading in Dialogue by the AMPS (Architecture Media Politics Society) a Focus on Pedagogy Journal. 


Finding slow creative practices to engage in through experimental printmaking practices, Ryan has taken her process into communities through public workshops encouraging participants to find joy through play. Under Pressure, a solo exhibition is on display at the Penn State Woskob Family Gallery through August 2024. This work was created as part of her slow creative practice research and focuses on mental health. She asks the viewer to consider how we show up as our authentic selves, imperfections and reality all without the fear of rejection.


Community Engagement Driven by the power of personal conversation and interaction, Ryan imagines every association within a community as part of the community design ecosystem. A system where all stakeholders have an equal say in every conversation and work collaboratively to connect the disconnected. Rethinking design as a problem-solving model, Ryan’s passion lies in creating situations for community members and designers to become involved on a personal level to create sustainable, long-term design solutions. 


Her commitment to design and her passion for the community collided when she founded a local nonprofit focused on community revitalization. ReInvision Huntingdon, a Pennsylvania based 501c3 was started in 2015 with the goal of creating space for all members to share and implement ideas regardless of funding to make those ideas happen. 


While attending the Savannah College of Art and Design, Ryan began her career as an Art Director publishing the Purdue Alumnus magazine while supporting graphic needs of the alumni association and their international alumni clubs. She later completed a Master of Fine Art in Visual Communications Design at Purdue University while simultaneously instructing Art & Design courses in the Visual and Performing Arts Program.


For the last 10 years Ryan has developed, designed, and redesigned the Integrated Media Arts Program at Juniata College. There she runs the IMA Studio, an interdisciplinary studio focused on community engaged learning. Students in the program design real-world solutions that meet the needs of local community partners. With the hope to make a positive contribution to future designers, Ryan has strived to educate the next generation of designers in the most meaningful way, teaching each student ways to use their imagination to make a difference in the world in addition to their local communities.

Her future sabbatical research focuses on designing a sense of community among neurodiverse and neurotypical students in academia.


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Music:

Safe House - John Bartmann licensed under a CC0 1.0 Universal License

It Was Another Time - John Bartmann licensed under a CC0 1.0 Universal License


Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle


Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo by Alex on Unsplash

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