The beautiful dream of every teacher: never having to grade. After many years of course design, I think that’s one of my main concerns when I create a new course. I say to myself, “I know I can teach the students well, but how can I do it with the minimum amount of grading?”
Grading is a pain. Grading is why a teacher’s day does not end when school ends. Grading is what makes it feel like your days just. Do. Not. End. Oh, classroom management can be a pain, and there’s a lot to be said for teaching students who genuinely want to learn, but six hours of grading on a Sunday can wear you down just as bad as a non-compliant classroom. I’ll look at basically any way to decrease that load.
The Crowdgrader tool mentioned in the above link is fairly simple – teachers create “assignments” (which means they write some instructions), and students upload their completed submissions, and then grade each other’s work, and then rate each other’s feedback. A nice touch is the ability to do group submissions.
I’ve done a few peer grading activities in the past, all of them in the classroom. The less structured these activities were, the worse they came out. When I set up a clear rubric, peer grading generally went very well. Students especially seem to appreciate rubric-based activities when they know that you’ll be using a similar rubric to grade exams. It’s always nice to open up the black box of the classroom so that students know how things work. In more technical or creative fields it can also be nice to see how your classmates approached their work.
In fact, I think that might be the most useful thing about all of this. Forget using it for courses where most things can be boiled down to right and wrong answers. That’s just as big a waste of student time as it is a waste of teacher time. Let’s push for this in more creative, more demanding courses where the approach can be just as important as the final answer. Let’s use this when there are multiple paths to the right answer, or when we’re in that fruitful area between purely objective and purely subjective, where justification and rational argument really count.
Using this in a MOOC would be another thing entirely. The ratio of participants to lurkers in MOOCs is so low that if you assigned everyone’s work to five other people during the first week of class, you’d get 1/2 of a person responding. However, later in the course, or with courses that have better “attendance” rates, there’s a lot of potential in this tool.