Davidson said the peer-review system teaches students responsibility, credibility, judgment, honesty, and how to offer and receive constructive criticism–something she said is becoming more important in a time of social media.

“I want students to learn that their evaluation has a real impact in the world, and so to really think about what an evaluation means,” she said. “And I think one of the problems with the internet is that it feels anonymous and fast–you can just say anything and there are no repercussions. In this system, there are real repercussions.”

And those repercussions could be social as well as academic. If a student judges all of his or her peers unsatisfactorily, it’s likely that his or her peers won’t judge the student’s own work as being satisfactory.

“That’s when you start understanding how you collaborate. The whole point of this is I’m saying we’re in a new era of collaboration. That’s what the internet is. And we don’t have anything in our school systems, in our methods of testing, or in our methods of evaluation that teaches students to be responsible collaborators,” she said. “You can’t collaborate unless you evaluate people’s work, give feedback, and take feedback. We don’t teach that skill.”

Some other educators don’t believe Davidson’s approach will give the type of results that she is hoping for.

Clarence Wyatt, a history professor at Centre College in Kentucky, said that while he agreed with many of Davidson’s concerns about the traditional grading process, he thinks her approach has some problems.

“The idea of peer involvement isn’t new, and while it can be valuable in the proper circumstances–for example, when it’s just one part of an overall package of evaluation–[Davidson] seems to set a pretty low bar,” Wyatt said. “Just turn the work in and get an A? She says that the current process reduces learning to a mercenary process? This isn’t any better–in fact, it’s worse. And she says it teaches responsibility to the students? Where’s the responsibility of the instructor?”


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