Networked Journalism Education

Student grading by peer networks

without comments

Craig Newmark wrote a post today on trust and reputation systems: redistributing power and influence

His key takeaway:

By the end of this decade, power and influence will shift largely to those people with the best reputations and trust networks, from people with money and nominal power. That is, peer networks will confer legitimacy on people emerging from the grassroots.

(I wasn’t able to get online to watch his presentation to Missouri students…will soon, hopefully.)

I’m thinking about how this might apply to education. Who has nominal power in a university setting? Administrators and faculty. Who is emerging from the grassroots? Students.

Can I imagine a scenario where a student’s grade was partially determined by a peer network? Maybe. We already have systems in place for faculty evaluations by peer networks. Could these be improved? No question. Can I imagine some nightmare scenarios from such networks? Yes, as bad as some of the nightmares we have from our current system of grades, evaluations and promotions.

Reading Newmark’s arguments, is it at least conceivable that some form of reputation management and trust currency could be applied in an academic setting in a fair and just way. These developments could help address some of the serious deficiencies in academic institutions that represent countless lost opportunities in today’s system.

For example, one serious failing in our current system is the reduction of evaluation to quantifiable measurements. In some cases, quantifiable assessment is sufficient – student answers to easily measured problems are right or wrong. Faculty publish or they don’t publish. Administrators bring in money or they don’t.

But we have few reasonable methods for assessing other types of behavior: does a journalism student exhibit the judgment and doggedness that will someday make a great reporter? Does a colleague contribute in meaningful ways to an online scholarly network? Does a student’s behavior in a class help others learn as well? Does a faculty member or student collaborate in ways that improves the productivity of a group? Do they contribute insights with others? Does their work stand out for its quality and clarity?

Quantifiable measurements can be gamed, and most professors I know have reluctantly given a high grade to a student who knew how to earn points without actually learning or giving much to a class. Faculty incentives can be dead on arrival when most the burning concern is whether this ‘counts’ at annual evaluation time. Administrators who resist change and hoard power reduce the ability of a university to prosper.

Maybe our incentives and measurements are contributing to the lack of energy I see in many college classrooms. Perhaps better systems for recognizing and rewarding talent, persistence, collaboration and success could help revitalize the academy. We should certainly try.

Here’s an idea for next semester: What if students produced a one-minute broadcast at the beginning of each class summarizing for a general audience what they learned in the previous class? Their peers – both in the class and outside — could evaluate the quality of the broadcast in some fashion that we designed together. The evaluation would be considered a part of the student’s grade, a peer input that would be transparent and make a difference. It would be a way to experiment with a reputation and evaluation system that was real and had consequences.

Any merit in this idea? Other ways to experiment with reputation, trust and authority in a college classroom?

Written by Donica

April 6th, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Leave a Reply