So, this year, when I teach "This Is Your Brain on the Internet," I'm trying out a new point system. 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. Clearcut. Student is responsible.
And how to judge quality, you ask? Crowdsourcing. 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. Or, if you are too busy and want to skip it, no problem.
This sounds lovely, in theory. But, as usual, I have a few questions:
- Since this is "mastery grading" rather than "quality grading," wouldn't this be one of the cases where A = Adequate rather than excellent? Some professors don't have a problem with that, of course, but it makes me uncomfortable, since the professor is the one ultimately putting the A on the gradesheet.
- What about the retro soul who, having paid Duke U's high tuition, wants to know what an outstanding scholar like Cathy Davidson thinks rather than what his or her peers think? One comment that I used to get from time to time if I relied a lot on group work was "I'm paying to see what the experts think, not what my classmates think, about my work," and there's some justice in that position.
- As a corollary of the previous point (and this comes up in Jane Tompkins's A Life in School, too, where a similar method is described): do students ever get curious about what exactly the professor is doing to earn her salary? I don't think this is a question that ought to be posed, but I wonder whether students think about it anyway.
- So there are no petty jealousies, no cutthroat grad students, and no factions that might influence a student's willingness to make someone rewrite a post? I don't know grad students who would behave this way personally, of course, but there's a lot of trust involved with this system.