‘Crowdsourcing’ was defined as a method of grading by Cathy Davidson, a professor at Duke University, in her course syllabus. Which just happened to be posted on her blog and was viewed by a couple thousand people. This is how she described her students earning a grade:
All students will receive the grade of A if they do all the work and their peers certify that they have done so in a satisfactory fashion. If you choose not to do some of the assignments and receive a lower grade, thats permissible.
I read blog responses and the comments that resulted from her original post. Personally, it brought back a lot of painful memories from my own education days. There have been some successes as a teacher, but on a minor scale. I can not image trying to tell a parent that their child’s entire grade was dependent A) on the work they opted to do. Which should be fair criteria, but at the Middle School level it would be argued that it was too much freedom. And B) if their peers agreed they did the work. Middle School is often considered the year of social blossoming. Any teacher can attest that they are more concerned with social standing and friends than homework. Grades would be a popularity contest not a sign of learning.
Students taking responsibility for their learning and their grades is not a new concept. However, with the shift in technology and the shift away from a traditional lecture based classroom, it was time to seriously consider it again. As I considered it, I have two really good examples that would fit under the ‘crowdsourcing’ heading: one was a positive, one was a huge negative.
Last year I tried a cultural project with the students to personalize Dia de los Muertos. The students created the expectations for the project, we worked together to create the grading rubric, and the presentation day style was decided by the class. The project idea originally came from a Spanish forum, but I do not exactly where. They were responsible to pick a meaningful person, either dead or alive, and create an ofrenda (in a box). We discussed what traditionally was found in an ofrenda. They had to have at least one item in each of the categories – name, photo, poem or letter to the person, personal item, and decoration. Each was worth 1 point. On the day of the presentations, each student got a different color, colored pencil (got to love Crayolas big box). They walked around the room and graded each project based on the 5 possible points. I allowed them to do half points because sometimes it was obviously done in homeroom, and the students rightly agreed it was not fair for them to get full points. This was student created and student graded. But it was only a small fraction of their overall grade for the marking period. I felt it was really successful. The students almost had too much fun grading each other. Because there were such clear guidelines, it was not about popularity, but about who did the work. There was only one grade I overrode because the student interpreted the project differently. He had all the elements just presented in an alternative manner. Not all his peers could see past the difference.
The negative experience came when I was a graduate student. A large chunk of our grade was creating a wiki page for the class. That was all the guidelines we were given. I have never been so stressed about a grade I could not control. In the end, I do not know if it played a role in our grade. The self assessing and peer review never took place. It was so hard to please the professor. Even though it was supposed to be student created – he was never happy. Because the professor was not happy, the students were not happy. It was no longer about learning, but making the bulleted points match or finding a random picture to decorate the page.
I am sure everyone has horror stories about group or partner projects. I hope for the sake of the Duke students that it is a positive and not a negative experience. I like the fact that you get an A for satisfactorily completing all the assignments and will lose points for assignment you choose not to do. However, what about the gray area? What about the students who complete the assignments but it is deemed not satisfactory? She did say the student would have the chance to re-do the assignment. But how many times? What if it is just malicious of the other students saying the work is not correct. Grades are competitive, and it does not take long for students to realize their grade looks better if someone gets a worse grade. A positive for those students – they probably are not going to be ambushed with the alternative grading policy when class starts. Now the whole worldwide web knows and is discussing it.