‘Crowdsourcing,’ the notion of using the wisdom of the crowd for sites like Wikipedia, could be making its way into academe as a grading method that holds students more accountable.
A professor at Duke University plans to test just that this fall, when she leaves the evaluation of class assignments up to her students, using crowdsourcing to make students responsible for grading each other.
Learning is more than earning an A says Cathy N. Davidson, the professor, who recently returned to teach English and interdisciplinary studies after eight years in administration. But students don’t always see it that way. Vying for an A by trying to figure out what a professor wants or through the least amount of work has made the traditional grading scale superficial, she says.
“You’ve got this real mismatch between the kind of participatory learning that’s happening online and outside of the classroom, and the top-down, hierarchical learning and rigid assessment schemes that we’re using in the classroom from grades K through 12 and all the way up to graduate school,” Ms. Davidson says. “In school systems today, we’re putting more and more emphasis on quantitative assessment in an era when, out of the classroom, students are learning through an entirely different way of collaboration, customizing, and interacting.”
Ms. Davidson will pilot the grading approach to this fall in her class “This Is Your Brain on the Internet,” which combines neuroscience and technology. Fifteen students, in rotating teams of two, are assigned to lead each class session, calling on a list of texts, Web sites and other materials Ms. Davidson provides to facilitate discussion and give assignments. Those students are also responsible for reading each student’s “assignment,” which is posted on his or her blog, and evaluating whether that work is satisfactory. If the work is deemed unsatisfactory, a student has the opportunity to redo it.
“Do all the work, you get an A. Don’t need an A? Don’t have time to do all the work? No problem. You can aim for and earn a B. There will be a chart. You do the assignment satisfactorily, you get the points. Add up the points, there’s your grade. Clearcut. No guesswork. No second-guessing ‘what the prof wants.’ No gaming the system,” Ms. Davidson wrote Sunday in a blog post detailing her strategy on hastac.org (pronounced “haystack”), the acronym for “humanities, arts, science, and technology-advanced collaboration.,” which she co-founded.
Her incoming students aren’t aware of her plans for the semester -- but Sunday’s post, in which she explained how she would grade and also included a copy of the syllabus, already had 1,300 hits by Monday, with comments both supporting and doubting her method.
Some came from those who had tried the method and failed, as one educator from Buffalo wrote, because groups of students blindly and consistently marked up or down other students’ work “in order to increase their own grade in the class favorably, and hurt others’ grades.” Others, like a professor from New York University, saw success in a crowdsource grading approach for a large, interdisciplinary undergraduate courses.
Still others defended the traditional grading system. One professor, though hesitant to call the American grading system an “absolute good,” said allowing students to start at an A, or earn an A by merely completing assignments, was equating “doing fine” -- which would earn a ‘C’ in his own classes -- to “doing excellent,” which should earn an A.
“We ought to take the idea of excellence very, very seriously,” he wrote.
Still, Ms. Davidson says she’s optimistic about how the grading system will affect her classes and the way her students learn.
“Education is way behind just about everything else in dealing with these [media and technology] changes,” she said. It’s important to teach students how to be responsible contributors to evaluations and assessment. Students are contributing and assessing each other on the Internet anyway, so why not make that a part of learning?”