Week 4 – Arnsperger – (Mis)Judging the Self

In my past and current teaching, I have encouraged self-evaluated and self-directed learning inside and outside the classroom, though only in tandem with more traditional approaches to learning. I think every time I ask, for example, “what makes a good thesis,” “how do we best conclude a paper,” “why do we read literature,” “what do you know, what are your questions, what do you want to learn,” I encourage self-directed learning to some extent, as I ask the students to actively reflect upon their own work and their own interests, capacities, and knowledge. ¬†They may come up with ideas that I have had too, or they may share thoughts that are not unique or surprising, but some students’ suggestions may indeed be new and innovative and compelling, thus influencing my teaching but also influencing their approaches to the material.

In a few classes in the past, I have asked students to evaluate themselves and other members of a team after they completed a group project. I would give them specific prompts and instructions before they would submit a note to me about their peers. I have also asked students to evaluate their in-class participation at the end of a couple of classes. I would tell students to submit a note with the participation grade they feel they deserve, along with a clear, meaningful explanation and justification. This last assignment did not necessarily prove to be extremely useful, as most students would, not surprisingly perhaps, rate themselves very highly, stressing all their strengths while not mentioning any problems (attendance, lateness, distraction); however, in conjunction with my own perspective, I was able to arrive at what I thought to be accurate grades. The first activity, evaluation of peers, was likewise associated with issues, as students are hesitant to judge their classmates. Occasionally, though, this exercise was eye-opening, as I would learn, for example, that one of four students did not contribute anything to a group project and never showed up to meetings; then again, most students proved to be very diligent and motivated according to the evaluations …

Several friends and colleagues have taken the idea of self-evaluated and self-directed learning much further. I know of one colleague who would sit down with his students at the end of the semester and “negotiate” a final grade. Apparently successfully so. I can see how this might be tempting to do (in an online class, this would have to be done via email or chat or Skype), as it would prevent grade complaints after the class. I’d be curious what other people think about such an approach to evaluation.

5 thoughts on “Week 4 – Arnsperger – (Mis)Judging the Self

  1. All very interesting stuff. My question is how do students feel about evaluating peers? Do they tend to be overly generous? Do you feel they are equipped to do this well?

  2. I cannot give you general answers to these questions, as it really depends on the individual. Some students feel awkward about it, others seem to like being invited to state that someone did or did not contribute to the group project. Of course there are instances when you feel that someone was too generous, or that someone provides a positive evaluation in writing whereas in person he/she shared grievances about a classmate. Finally, are they equipped? I think they only are equipped if we give them clear instructions and if we prepare them for the task of evaluating peers or themselves.

  3. When I taught health assessment students would go in and to a complete head to toe assessment on a standardized patient (actor) while being videotaped. The student would then be required to watch the video and using the same rubric I used grade themselves. When I graded them I took their self reflection and gave them points inside of the rubric for it. Students hated watching themselves but learned so much. Also when we did simulation with the medical students a group of five students would be given a scenario. The students would be videoed and once one student went through then they could watch a live video feed of the next student doing the same encounter. They all evaluated each other. It was very uncomfortable but at the same time pushed them and taught them a lot. Students generally responded very well to it! (I hated being one of the patients and being recorded!)

    1. This is a great example, Trisha. I have my ESL tutors also tape themselves during a tutoring session and then complete self-evaluation forms, which we later discuss in a meeting. A bit awkward for all parties involved, but helpful as well because it is one of the few opportunities for me actually observe and evaluate tutors.

  4. The idea of negotiating a grade with the student at the end of the semester is interesting, and it seems like if it were successfully done, it would cut down on the number of grade complaints. But, I think it also raises a lot of questions.

    First, students in courses like philosophy, literature, etc. are already prone to complaining that grades are “completely subjective,” and I wonder if “negotiating” the final grade would only reinforce their preconceived idea that paper grades are based on whether or not the professor “likes” you/your paper, rather than grades being based on more objective criteria (did you demonstrate comprehension of the text? did you make an argument? was that argument well-supported? did you address possible criticisms?).

    Second, negotiations are subject to power dynamics and implicit biases. It’s an empirically demonstrated fact that some students, based on demographics, are perceived as more competent or intelligent than others, just as it’s a fact that instructors are subject to the same perceptions from their students (how often do men get comments on their physical appearance in evaluations?). Some techniques help mitigate that effect on grading (e.g., I grade papers anonymously, and only learn who wrote what when I am entering the finalized grades on Blackboard). But I think all of those implicit associations would come into play in a “negotiation,” possibly in ways their neither party was aware of. (I am also reminded here of studies done on hiring practices. Even if two resumes are exactly the same except for the name, recruiters are something like twice as likely to call back the person with the “white-sounding” name, like Greg, rather than the “black-sounding” name like Jamal.)

    Similarly, I think “negotiations” privilege male students over female students, because men are socialized to be more comfortable advocating for themselves and claiming more credit (and, later in life, asking for raises, for example). While we might say, “Oh, then women should learn to self-advocate and take credit where it’s due,” I don’t think the solution is as simple as making them argue for their grades, and it certainly will punish them in the short term as they start on that learning curve.

    On the whole, I think negotiating final grades with students just opens the whole grading process up to a lot of potential issues. I’m sure there are ways it could be done successfully and fairly, but one would need to be very, very careful.

    -Just, as a resource, in case anyone’s curious about work in implicit biases: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

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