As hard as I’ve been on Jeremy Adelman, I have to say that he has taught me a few things. I knew almost nothing about South Asian history going into this MOOC. He’s covered a lot of it. I’m surprised how much of the rest of the general story I’ve known already simply through my familiarity with American history going back to its beginnings, but Adelman does tell a good unfamiliar (to me at last) anecdote now and then. This material, however, is not what I wrote about for my homework.
I wrote my essay on the European conquest of the Americas because I already knew lots of details and I could write it up quickly and modestly competently. Seriously, what incentive did I have to do otherwise? The students grading me don’t know that I’m a history professor. They don’t even get their fellow students’ names. The grade I eventually get on this thing isn’t going to count at all for me one way or another. In fact (as many other professor/MOOC student bloggers have already made clear), you don’t even have to submit an essay in order to have access to future lectures.
I think this is one of those instances in which I could really help with the edtech here if anybody bothered to ask me. It strikes me that the fundamental problem with peer grading is that nobody has any incentive to work. That goes for both the writing and the grading (which gave me bad flashbacks from my usual job, but I drizzled out some comments anyways). What exactly does anybody stand to gain from working hard in this course? Will they get a better place in Heaven?
If I ran Coursera, I would leverage the wisdom and incentive of the crowd. Don’t ask me how to do the programing, but it should be possible for their computer geeks to create some kind of sorting mechanism. Each student would get an essay writing number based on how they’re rated by other students and a grading number based on how well they rate compared to other students.* The best graders would get the best papers, the worst graders would get the worst. And by worst graders, I don’t mean least skilled. I mean the ones whose scores fall furthest from the mean. Also, the papers that get the best scores deserve to be read by more than just five other people because the people doing the grading would learn the most from them. Maybe the worst writers could get special looks at them.
People can also be motivated by attention, so why not give them some? Perhaps the best writers and the best graders could make it onto some kind of international top one hundred list, like the ones you find on that trivia game that I always see at BW3 (albeit, it’s been a REALLY long time since I’ve been in a BW3). That page would be accessible to people who aren’t even signed up for Coursera so that the people who come out on top could amaze all their Twitter followers and Facebook friends.
But do you know what I’d really like to see? I’d like to see at least one of those essays make its way into one of Professor Adelman’s lectures.** Seriously, the way he’s going now Adelman could be replaced by tapes of himself because he’s offered no indication that the students even exist. He’ll address Valeria and Jeff, but not us directly as students. I think that’s just weird.
The student body will still change from course to course. The problems will change from course to course. Even if Adelman can’t acknowledge us individually, he can still use the submissions to adjust how and what he’s teaching. We didn’t even get a course e-mail this week and that was the only acknowledgement that I ever got that I exist. I am not a number. I’m a human being (and a rather lazy at that)! But when I fall down on this job, the only people who know are those of you who choose to read this blog. When he phones it in, 70,000+ people have to live with the consequences.
Perhaps being a super-professor means never having to say you’re sorry.
* By the way, for those of you in the course, I think rating yourself is an absolutely ridiculous and useless exercise. I gave myself all zeroes just for kicks.
** I guess he could surprise me and say something by the end of this week’s lectures, but I wouldn’t bet any money on that.