Blog Post

Crowdsourcing Grading Revisited: The Public Gets in the Act

Last summer, I created a bit of a dust storm by announcing that we'd be "crowdsourcing grading" in my undergraduate class, "This Is Your Brain on the Internet."  The logic, in brief, is that, if this class is about learning how to be constructive and productive participants in participatory online culture, then we should practice what we preach.   So now I share grading duties with the students. 


We don't do this in a vacuum.   We spent the last week reading all the comments we could find in response to my original "How To Crowdsource Grading" post:   My students thought it was pretty funny to see "Prof Davidson" dragged through the cybermud of the blogosphere, I think.


I didn't lead the discussion of grading.  This is a peer-led course and the grading discussion was ably guided by the class TA, Alex Greenberg, and two graduate student Teaching Apprentices in the course, Ashon Crawley and Bill Hunt.   They provided insights into the history of grading, some theories of education from Locke to Friere, and some theoretical concepts that we will use throughout the term.  They paired educational philosophy with grading systems and made us think about why we use one metric and not another, and what counts in any form of measurement.  We also did an experiment with a grade report card Ashon found on line.  He asked us to provide an imaginary narrative of the person reported.   How much do we know about a human being from the list of A's and B's on a report card?


And they asked us to remember our lowest grade and to think about what the conversation was like in our heads and with our parents when we didn't do as well as we usually do.  I think all of us could remember a low grade.  It was revealing and important to hear students talk about their memories of grade shame.  Grades brand us for life.   The myth of the blot against one's "permanent record" is dispelled once one is in the real world of work for a while--but it is clear that we carry, within ourselves, a permanent record of our academic failures.  That's painful.  


And some unforgettable insights:  Who knew that letter grades began being assigned at Mt Holyoke and then five years later someone decided grading was such a good idea that it they'd assign letter grades to cuts of meat.   Now that's a metaphor!


We also talked about the importance of taking responsibility for our opinions on line.  And Bill praised the Public Commenting system on our Digital Media and Learning Competition and students were astonished that applications were visible to the world and people were commenting away on one another's projects, offering constructive feedback to people they didn't even know.   We're up to well over 800 comments at this point.  It's really satisfying to see it working.  And, since I was out there trumpeting the values of "crowdsourcing grading" before either my course or this open competition began, it is deeply satisfying to me to see people at their best.


If you haven't yet, check it out.  You can read inspiring ideas and you can leave constructive feedback too.  Be part of the process!  You'll enjoy it.  Here's the url:


And here's the one for the original "How to Crowdsource Grading" post that attracted all the attention this summer:   For other posts on "This Is Your Brain on the Internet," you can search in the HASTAC Search box with the tag "ISIS 120."   I and the students will be blogging throughout the term.




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