Socect’s Weblog

Unsettled Thoughts/Works in Progress

Collaborating, Competing and Grades

“Pamanthropolgist” (another blogger) raised the question of how to assign grades for a collaborative project (like the Wiki). The problem is that on the one hand we want to encourage students to learn how to work cooperatively on projects. But the entire structure of the university (schools in general) is based on individual competition, expressed in terms of individual grades. So how to deal with this? (I was going to just reply to the comment, but this deserves a post of its own.)

This is always a difficult question – how to assign grades (credit) for a collaborative project. In the past, I’ve always had the students submit an evaluation of their own contributions and those of group members. They hate this. I’ve even been accused of being “unethical” (believe it or not) by one student who said that it was my job as instructor to give grades and unfair (unethical, in her words) to make students do it. Since then I’ve always been clear that I am the one assigning grades and that their evaluation forms are for me to get feedback on what goes on in the group. (In fact this has always been true, I’ve never assigned grades simply on student self-evaluations; rather they provide important inputs in the process.) I obviously can’t be present to see what every group is doing all the time (who is contributing and who is not). Mike Wesch has noted that he tried to use a group ‘self-grading’ system, but had to abandon (or change it) because students weren’t willing to grade down a popular but under-performing group member. (This is mentioned either in his blog or one of his online lectures… forget which).

In theory, the Wiki should make assigning grades easier. The contributions of every member of the wiki can be viewed by clicking on their profile. I did a fair amount of research on the web, trolling through education and course related Wiki’s before deciding to go ahead with a Wiki for SC2218. There seemed something of a consensus that the transparency of the Wiki (knowing exactly who contributed what) made assigning credit easier (compared to older formats for group projects). The downside (complaint) of some students is that the architecture of the Wiki seems to favor quantity over quality – specifically, the built in Wetpaint feature (the platform I’m using), which highlights those members who contribute the most (their picture appears in the “top contributors” sidebar; with the size weighted to the number of page edits). In my syllabus, I make clear that quality and cooperation will be given greater weight than quantity (though, quantity still counts to some degree – one really excellent post alone will unlikely be enough to get an exceptionally high grade for participating on the Wiki). On a member’s profile, one can see exactly what that person contributed and read through those contributions – this of course takes more time than just looking at the number of contributions. But with just a bit more effort one can see the quality of contributions not just their quantity.

The very simple answer to how we (I and my two teaching assistants) will be grading the Wiki is that 10% of the over all grade for the course will be based on participation on the Wiki. Students are assigned to contribute to certain parts of the Wiki (NUS has an internal “IVLE”… Integrated Virtual Learning Environment… system through which students will be automatically assigned to one of five “Wiki Groups”). So first, we will be looking to see that they have contributed to those pages and that the pages for their group are of good quality (in that sense there still is a “group” component). Next, we will be looking at their overall contributions beyond the pages assigned to their group. The 10% Wiki component of their grad will be based on that.

There is also a group project that they will be doing (won’t go into the details here). That will also be Wiki-mediated. Again this should make it somewhat more transparent who is contributing what. This helps to solve the problem of “slackers” getting lots of credit for other people’s work. But at the same time, this is still a group project and collaboration will be important. We are not going to look favorably on group members who appear to be trying to monopolize all the credit for their group project by trying to do everything themselves without collaborating with their peers (we don’t want to reward ‘kiasu’ behavior… Singaporeans know what I mean!).

All that said, I’m not going to hide the fact that this is the first time I am running the class with a Wiki platform. So although I’ve read enough and looked at enough examples to have some idea of what to expect, I’m sure some things will need to be worked out as this project proceeds.

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August 13, 2008 - Posted by | Teaching | , ,

4 Comments »

  1. Did I thank you yet for your very satisfying and helpful response? Thank you.

    Comment by Pamthropologist | August 15, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] post by Dr Eric Thompson, an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology. He has been using a Wetpaint wiki for SC2218 Anthropology and the Human Condition. He discusses the issue of grading collaborative projects and how he grades the wiki-based […]

    Pingback by Blog.nus » Blog Archive » Looking ahead to the CS1105 Computing and Society wiki | September 8, 2008 | Reply

  3. This brings me to an idea:…

    Comment by Brit-Müller | July 30, 2009 | Reply

  4. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

    Comment by sandrar | September 10, 2009 | Reply


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