World History MOOC Report 7: In which I wanna be a rock star.

18 10 2012

I’m not going to tell you what my exact grade was on my first peer-graded assignment because then I’d have to explain the entire system. I will tell you this: giving myself all zeroes for kicks really hurt because Coursera actually counts your self-evaluation as part of peer grading. How is it possible to be your own peer? I have no flippin’ idea.

As I think Vim, Ph.D. pointed out somewhere, there isn’t a lot of room for nuance when the scale goes all the way from struggling to rock star in just three numbers (1-3). [Zero, it seems, is for plagiarism and empty fields.] Taking my zeroes out of the equation, I think the peer assessments were fair for something I threw together rather quickly. They were not, however, particularly helpful.

As I predicted, all of the comments I got were very short – a few incomplete sentences really, just like I wrote for the essays that I had to grade. While the numbers were fair, the evaluations themselves were all over the map. The one I liked the most suggested that I should have used one of the arguments offered in the question. Leave aside the fact that I had an absolutely killer argument. The question was exactly one sentence long.

A system that allows a student who doesn’t know what an argument is to score the argument of a student who does is fundamentally flawed. Sure, I use peer evaluation all the time to help improve student writing, but I do all the actual grading myself because – shockingly enough – I have the knowledge, the experience and the writing ability to help more than any student can. I’m not being egotistical here. Anyone who’s been teaching history for fifteen years like I have [Ugh, it really has been that long!] should be in the exact same position.

I’m beginning to think that the whole idea of peer grading is an insult to the knowledge and experience of professors everywhere. Our knowledge and experience are what make faculty highly-skilled labor, which in turn makes us worth an upper-middle class wage. Therefore, the people who want to profit from the corpses of our careers have to find a substitute. Like those UPS interns at the University of Louisville who Marc Bousquet describes (.pdf) in the still must-read classic How the University Works, perhaps peer grading is just another example of higher ed using students to do work for free that really ought to be purchased on the open labor market.

I’ll withhold final judgement on peer grading though until after I complete an experiment. I have another paper due soon, and I’m going to be a rock star. I’m drafting my answer already, and it’s not due for days. I’ll visit the forums in search of additional facts to sprinkle into the essay. I’ll actually proof it this time too. I’ll even give myself all threes.

Then let’s see what happens…

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6 responses

18 10 2012
RAB

I’m finding this fascinating. It fills me with Schadenfreude. Perhaps most to the point, what a disappointment when the details of the actuality match so completely one’s prior assumptions! In the words (possibly not the exact spelling) of one of Milt Gross’s characters, Is diss a seestum?

18 10 2012
Lisa M Lane

I’ll see your 15 years and up you by 10. :-)

Maybe we shouldn’t call it peer grading. Maybe it’s peer assessment, or even peer feedback. Perhaps it is input, not the final say. Let’s say it’s formative instead of summative. That it helps them develop ideas rather than created a graded product.

Peer grading in a MOOC is indeed a way of getting students to do that work, except that it should be work, it should be guidance, and like you say very few of them can actually provide that well.

Posted from my binder.

20 10 2012
Mazel

“The whole idea of peer grading is an insult to the knowledge and experience of professors everywhere. Our knowledge and experience are what make faculty highly-skilled labor, which in turn makes us worth an upper-middle class wage. Therefore, the people who want to profit from the corpses of our careers have to find a substitute.”

That is exactly right.

It’s all about finding a low-quality, low-cost version of higher ed that, in the eyes of the 1 percent, is good enough for the commoners. All the noble talk about bringing higher education to the world’s poor is there to make people feel good about the destruction they’re wreaking.

23 10 2012
Jeremy

wow. I just discovered you thanks to a friend’s tip. I’ll follow this and learn. Nothing beats this version of “peer assessment”.

23 10 2012
Jonathan Rees

Such a gracious comment suggests to me that you are indeed Jeremy Adelman. Welcome and thanks for caring.

I guess I am no longer going to be a number then.

29 10 2012
World History MOOC Report 9: In which I prefer peer evaluation to peer grading. « More or Less Bunk

[...] course of the seven days following the deadline. You use the 0-3 scale that I’ve mentioned earlier. You award three grades: one for evidence, one for argument and one for exposition. There’s a [...]

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