First, let me apologize to my fellow bloggers at PEA Soup for taking so long to break my silence. I agreed to join a couple of days before leaving for an extended vacation on the East Coast, and upon my return, the great weather we have had here made several home improvement projects shoot to the top of my priority list. But now that fall quarter has begun, my mind is back to philosophy and all that it has to offer.
Specifically, I have been thinking about my courses and the assignments I give to my students. I believe that a philosophy course must have an argumentative paper at its core, but I have been frustrated in the past with the papers I receive from students. So last winter, in an effort to improve student writing, I assigned a peer editing project to my students. Students were required to write a rough draft of their paper, and exchange these drafts on a specific date with other students in the class. They were then required to edit the papers they received from their classmates, return them to the authors, and make changes to their papers based on these comments.
Some students found it be an extremely challenging and rewarding assignment. One student claimed that it was the hardest assignment of her college career; another student claimed that she finally understood and could appreciate just how difficult our jobs can be; almost all students could not believe how poorly the others students wrote. Having them come to that realization was, of course, one of my main motivations in the assignment. Most students cannot identify the problems in their own writing; hopefully, by seeing how other students write, they can begin to identify the mistakes in their papers.
Overall, however, the results were mixed. For the students who put a lot of time and effort into the assignment, the assignment helped them to improve their writing. Others, however, did not put much effort into the assignment (e.g. one student claimed that every paper he edited was “Awesome” and the arguments “Rocked”. That was the full extent of his comments.)
So I have two questions for you: (1) Has anyone else assigned a peer editing project? If so, how were your results? I worry about repeating the assignment for this reason: if the people who edit your paper do not take the assignment seriously, then you will not recieve good feedback on your paper, and will not have the opportunity to improve the paper. This seems to punish you for the mistakes of another. (2) Do you have any suggestions for the logistics of grading the editing project? For example, how much weight should the editing project have relative to the paper itself? I find myself in a bit of a dilemma on this one. If I give the projects little weight, then few students put in enough effort. But I have a hard time giving the assignment a lot of weight because I wanted to grade it based largely on effort. What I found is that it can be remarkeably hard to judge the amount of effort expended, so to give the assignment a lot of weight was morally dubious.
Any suggestions would be welcome, for I am always looking for ways to help my students improve their writing and enjoy my classes.