Giving grades is often cited as the biggest downside of teaching. In too many cases, it reduces the importance on the knowledge imparted in favor of a contest to see who can repeat the teacher's words most precisely.
Professor Cathy Davidson of Duke University thinks she's found a solution: handing the power over to her students. Per her blog: "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.' Clearcut. Student is responsible."
If the grading students determine that an assignment hasn't been completed satisfactorily, the student has a chance to resubmit the assignment, for another chance at the points. If all assignments are deemed satisfactory, the student gets 100 points, for an A in the class.
According to Davidson, every study on peer review among students shows that students perform at a higher level, and with more care, when they know they are being evaluated by their peers than when they know only the teacher and the TA will be grading.
Comments to Davidson's proposal are mostly supportive, though one raises an example that illustrates a downside - gaming the system. A professor from Buffalo tried this form of grading and found that 2 groups emerged, one composed of fraternity brothers, the other a group that had self-formed within the class. These groups each determined that they would vote each other up and the other group down - regardless of the quality of work. When the teacher intervened, she got complaints of "you set the rules, you can't change them now." To be fair, she was grading on a curve, which she admits may have been a mistake.
What do you think? Would you trust your peers to grade you fairly? Can this be done, as long as safeguards are put in place to prevent things from getting personal?
To read more on this story, check out this article in Inside Higher Ed.