Sunday, August 09, 2009

Is it Crowdsourcing or Shirking?

I stumbled across Cathy Davidson's blogpost, , and I'm not quite sure how I feel about the method of grading she is about to try. You need to read the entire post but I'll summarize just a bit here. Cathy is seeking a more authentic method for grading her Duke University students.
Cathy says, "I can't think of a more meaningless, superficial, cynical way to evaluage learning in a class on a new modes of digital thinking (including rethinking evaluation) than by assigning a grade. It turns learning (which should be a deep pleasure, setting up for a lifetime of curiousity) into a crass competition."

She goes on to say that currently the goal for most students becomes to figure out what's the least amount of work they can do to get the best grade. She's convinced (and I don't think any educator would argue with this one) that most of the students are not taking personal pride or ownership in their work and will simply do the bare minimum that will earn the best grade. She is, therefore, turning the grading over to her students; thus crowdsourcing the grading of her course. She stresses that it is class peers that must deem each others' work satisfactory in order to receive grades:
"Since I already have structured my seminar (it worked brilliantly last year) so that two students lead us in every class, they can now also read all the class blogs (as they used to) and pass judgment on whether they are satisfactory. Thumbs up, thumbs down. If not, any student who wishes can revise. If you revise, you get the credit. End of story."

Now, let me first say that her course, This is Your Brain on the Internet, sounds fabulous. She has the students blogging, using wikis, Twittering, etc. and she offers options for those who feel they lack in "tech skills."

My problem is simply in one area. That is in her completely turning over the evaluation process to her students. Isn't it expected that her students are still learning and that she is the ultimate "expert" in her classroom? I'm all for students evaluating and offering collaborative critiques, but doesn't she have a responsibility to oversee that final decision on whether a student has satisfactorily mastered the criteria?

I'm pretty sure we're ALL fed up with the system as it is and the way students must be evaluated but is the answer to throw up your hands and pass it off to those who are still figuring it all out?



I agree that she should work with the students on criteria for evaluation before handing it over completely to them. There is a real risk, especially with immature students, of the evaluation turning into a popularity contest.

BTW, love your title - is the reference to Shirky deliberate?

Hadass (lionsima to you 8-))

This comment has been removed by the author.


What's even more amazing is that these Duke kids are paying tons of money to learn from a well-paid professor who then basically shirks the responsibility of grading onto them.

Some of my best college professors played 'expert' when they needed to and guided me toward better understanding of the course materials.

Of course, I haven't read her whole post on the subject, but at the University level, teaching takes on a different role than in elementary, middle or high school since the student is paying for the education and the higher degree is supposed to prepare them directly for their adult life.

Thanks for bringing this method to my attention.

Mary Beth
(aka mbteach)

P.S. not sure why my last comment deleted. I had to post again--must have hit the wrong button :)


Couple of things - you don't look geeky, the absolute best analysis I've ever read about grading and 'quality' is Robert Pirsig's 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' (Part 3, chapter 16). Superb stuff. And third - enjoying your blog (my first visit was just now). I'll be back (use Arnie voice).

jstpierre said...

I agree with your analysis and feel that it is the ultimate responsibility for us to guide our students. Having taught elementary students in the early days of my career, I often collaborated with students to create rubrics for assigned or inquiry related work. However, as much as I disliked having to "grade" students, I did believe that it was my responsibility because my judgment was more informed based on my experience and years of education. I feel the same way now that I am teaching pre-service teachers.
I also wanted to comment on Dr Eviatar's great connection to Shirkey (as in Clay Shirkey.)
Finally, I would like to compliment you on your blog. I especially like the feature of your book case. I like the blend of classic and new.


Interesting discussion. I began experimenting with assessments that start with the students and the peer group a couple of years ago. On several projects in my freshman & jr-sr English classes, I've had students do self-assessments as well as assess group members. I tell them from the outset that I have veto authority; if the combination of their self- & peer- assessments differ more than, say, 10% from my own, then we have to meet and conference to arrive at the final grade.

From what I've experienced, the critical element is teaching students not only to use rubrics but also to have a critical understanding of what the rubrics ask. This takes a LOT of up front work. In the long run, though, I think it really can lead to a much more effective assessment process.


While students offering a critique of another's work can be useful, I question whether grades should be given by someone with a vested interest. Do they really have an impartial view? By devaluing another's work, some feel their work is then more valuable. On the flip side, some students will praise a project in order to make points with that person. Interpersonal relationships can really skew the grades. By the way, great blog!!
Janet Hallstrom


It is certainly nothing new for professors to pass grading on to other people (typically in the form of a grad student).

Many times teaching is less than a third of what a professors job entails especially at research institutions like Duke.

So I can certainly see how grading would be something a professor would like to hand off, however, I am not so certain that students are the right people to hand grading off to.

Perhaps peer evaluation to supplement the course instead of being the primary means of grading would be a better way to lighten the grading load without giving up quite so much authority? Students may also feel less like they are doing the professors job with this method.