Peer Review System in Education
Creating Passionate Learners
Scott Jaschik’s brief article “Getting Out of Grading,” interacts with Cathy Davidson’s message that passionate learning for material in college has been lost to a “crass competition: how do I snag the highest grade for the least amount of work?” (Jaschik 410). Davidson claims that the traditional grading system frustrates students with the strictness present in assessments as opposed to newer learning methods which promote creativity in a student’s work. In her tenure at Duke, Davidson’s class, “This Is Your Brain on the Internet,” focuses on the evaluation of a peer review system that promises to make grading clear cut and less subjective. Other professors share their interest in peer review learning as “students without previous educational privilege *love* it and often do extremely well when not being judged in the usual way” (Jaschik 410). Of course, overhauling the educational system brings up debatable points since it fundamentally alters how both students and instructors are to think of grading. Nonetheless, Davidson’s solution fixes the traditional grading system and stimulates passionate learning in students by, implementing a peer review learning system, outlining how an instructor needs to evaluate progress, and redefining the role instructors have with their students.
To redesign an educational system, one needs to revolve the solution around the students. The main beauty of the Davidson’s solution comes about in peer critiques as it passes the judgement of evaluation on whether student’s work is satisfactory by simply having the students become the grader and apply thumbs up or thumbs down on each other’s work (Jaschik 410). Often students particularly dislike sharing work because they are afraid to fail in front of someone. Yet, by having a peer review system, this natural fear subconsciously causes students to put in extra work on their assignments. For instance, Davidson notes that in her class that “two students lead us in every class” (Jaschik 410) The interesting aspects of this system is that students must learn the material ahead of time to teach it, confront the fear of public speaking, and be responsible for another student’s learning. The communal aspect to peer review classes and grading demonstrates that students are taking a responsibility to learn rather than passively sitting by as an instructor lectures.
On the flip side of the argument of communal learning, critics point to several flaws. First, in such a small group, groupthink and social constructs can overcome the class and create a toxic environment. In Jaschik’s article, he quotes an example from a reviewer, Alexander Halavais, that “Two ‘gangs’ (one a group of fraternity brothers, the other just people who met and formed up) reached an agreement that they would vote up each others’ work no matter what” (Jaschik 410). Clearly students will use the system to their advantage to ensure they get a good grade. This begs the question of the legitimacy of the grades being given out. However, this type of thinking does demonstrate that students are using their creativity to solve a problem; this is one of the core intents of the system. Furthermore, in an instance where students are conspiring to hurt other students, an instructor still has the authority to alter grades and or punish the conspirators for breaking a code of ethics. To better answer the questions brought up, this is where traditional aspects of the grading system need to be redefined.
In addressing the concerns of the peer review system, one needs to begin by clearly outlining how an instructor needs to evaluate progress in their students. Davidson suggests taking herself, or the instructor, out of assigning grades to assignments to determine progress (Jaschik 411). The uniqueness of this approach is that it allows the student to see assignments as a time of practice. The ultimate push that Davidson wants is to “encourage students to rethink everything they’ve learned about grading within higher education and encourage them to think about how you evaluate quality” (Jaschik 411). To better elaborate on the idea of quality in a student’s work, instructors need to have students collaborating and teaching one another when necessary, but as they interact, the instructor needs to interact with the students too. Reason being is that instructor needs to get a general baseline for each student in the class. When I went to a STEM high school, this type of involvement was heavily used and lead to favorable outcomes because a teacher could evaluate a student on personal and academic growth. For example, if a student who generally is shy and has a hard time talking with other students shows signs of being able to break out of their comfort zone, this shows a type of progress that a grade can’t be given. More importantly, if the same student who also does an assignment and makes mistakes, Davidson’s system advocates that “any student who wishes can revise. If you revise, you get the credit. End of story” (Jaschik 410). Subjective evaluation does not entirely leave the system since personal development cannot entirely be measured with numerical values, but if an instructor can see both kinds of development, they are fulfilling their goal in making a difference in a student’s educational and personal development.
Critics will claim that with a peer review learning system that the idea of the instructor becomes undermined, but as illustrated above, instructors develop new skills. In the new system, an instructor still manages the class by providing expertise, a code of conduct, and material. The real difference is they now provide a way for students to evaluate one another, become more involved in the learning process, and take risks. Davidson’s system aids pre-tenure instructors to start taking chances by stating, “One never knows what one can get away with pre-tenure… from the most traditional to the most experimental… keep a paper trail … of any changes you’ve made in the syllabus … as it’s a wonderful addition to one’s tenure portfolio” (Jaschik 411). Like the students, the teachers gain a new level of freedom where they can alternate their classes to perform at their fullest capacity. What may work with one set of students may not fully work with another. Going back to the example of how an instructor needs to evaluate a student based on personal and academic growth by collaborating with each student individually, this is a new risk instructors must take to see the system flourish.
There are still several ways the peer review system can be altered to work out kinks, but the general idea still holds that we need to rethink how we grade and what we define as quality when it comes to learning. Instructors owe it to their students to move away from a static system that measures solely on performance if they want students to start enjoying learning again. The change happens when instructor alter their own efforts to be involved in the learning process. A successful system would naturally make learning an enjoyable journey where students want to find the end of the path.
- Jaschik, Scott. “Getting Out of Grading.” Inside Higher Ed. From Perspectives on Argument, by Nancy Wood and James Miller. Second Custom Edition. 2018. pp. 409-411.