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Sunday, March 4, 2012

"crowdsourcing" grading

I'm appropriating the name of this aspect of assessment from Cathy N. Davidson's chapter in her book Now You See It (Thanks Cathy!) Hastac.org, the blog of the work that is being done at Duke University is also a must read for those of us who are interested in how technology is showing up in classrooms at multiple levels of the education system.

This is mostly about involving students in the assessment process, which I've been doing for several years, but only through asking classes to collaborate to create the rubrics I use to assess their work or through asking students to reflect on the process and product of their work in the classroom.  I have generally, however, shied away from having high school students provide grades for each other. This is usually due to my perception of them as not being willing to put much thought into their feedback (the phrase of death: "That was really good, I liked it!" comes up waaayy too much), grading on the basis of friendship or the lack thereof, or not being sure that all of them actually understood the criteria. So I've had them assess themselves after the fact, and used check-ins during projects to see how things are going.
But in light of reading Now You See It with the rest of the Instructional Leadership team at Burlington High School, I decided to try to crowdsource the grading of two projects in my senior elective, US-China Relations. Here's how it started this week:

I described the two projects to the class--one is a student presentation of a particular aspect of the relationship between the two nations the other is a summation of each of the four sections of the course, the first of them is the creation of a glogster poster in which they present the history of the relationship from 1972-present. (Details are posted on the class' blog uschinarelationsbhs.wordpress.com). Next year I think I'll ask them to design the projects, or at least give them the option to try that out...

I then asked them how they wanted the grading of these projects to go.  I said I could grade them all, but it seemed to me that after 13 years of schooling, and given they were all adults, I wanted them to have the option to grade themselves. (Full disclosure: students with a grade of B+ or higher in senior electives in the second semester at BHS do not have to take the exam. So they have some motivation to do well. I also have the reputation of being "a hard grader"...) The prevailing sentiment in the class after some discussion was that they wanted a say in the grading. I asked them what their ideas were for how to do this, and they came up with several different permutations.  I didn't have to do much to direct the conversation after that: 26 different voices participated without my prompting!  As they talked, I recorded the ideas on the board for all to see, and they began to coalesce around a few options.

All agreed that they wanted a different system for each project, so we then broke up the projects and went one at a time.  In the end, this was the students' choice (they voted through the electorally rigorous method of putting their heads down and raising their hands, counted by me):

Presentations will be graded by the students for the "style" of the presentation: how engaging it is, how effective it is, how well put together it is.  Those grades will be collected and averaged, dropping the highest and lowest. I will be assessing the content of the presentation for accuracy. Students were perceptive enough to recognize that they were not going to be experts in the material enough to be able to say whether or not the presenters had accurate and thorough information.  My grade will then be averaged against the students' average to determine the final mark.

The Summary projects will be graded by the students and me as one of the crowd.  I will present the glogster projects to the class as anonymous submissions (to avoid assessment on the basis of friendship or enmity). The highest and lowest marks will be discarded, and the results averaged to attain a grade.

We then compiled the categories of a successful presentation in a google document, and the students are composing the language that will go into the rubric that we will use.

This is not a full out crowdsourcing of grades, which I was honestly ready to embrace, but the students themselves expressed deep ambivalence at completely handing over the power of the grade to each other.  "Honestly, I don't trust kids in this class to grade fairly" said one student, to the general agreement of her peers.

So while I'm glad to be going forward with this, I think it is disturbing that the seniors in my classroom, after 13 years of schooling, don't have confidence in themselves to be impartial, focused, and analytical about the work that is going on all around them, nor do they trust each other to have those rather vital traits as they are about to depart the school...

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