Time moves ever forward, and this semester has been rolling along quickly. We're already at Week 11 on the calendar, and my students will be doing their Week 12 pecha-kucha presentations in just a few short days. Except for today's class, who will re-watch a video, I've promised to demonstrate a pecha-kucha to my students to show them what I'm expecting. I'm going to do a spiel on how and why to make budae-jjigae, which is one of my favorite dishes to make: it's fun, it's easy, and it tastes amazing—especially the way I do it, which is to be very generous with the meat (see here, for example.)
Unfortunately, I've had to "pull a Joker," so to speak, regarding the grading of the upcoming pecha-kucha. I've given all my students an apologetic spiel about the need to design hard tests instead of fair tests because everyone needs to fit inside the mandated grading curve (which I recently complained about here). I've been very up-front with the kids about my opinion regarding the justice—or rather, the injustice—of fitting people into a curve, and how that obligation contributes to the deterioration of the student/teacher relationship. (Some fellow profs would doubtless advise me never to be so confessional, but what can I say? I'm a confessional kind of guy.) By "pulling a Joker," I mean designing a scoring system in which the students will have to hurt each other. Let me explain.
The pecha-kucha presentation is worth 15% of any given student's total grade. I've set up the scoring this way: out of 15 possible points, 10 points will come from the teacher's (somewhat harsh) assessment; the remaining 5 points will come from the students themselves. The students will evaluate each other's performance as teams, not as individuals, but the team rating will translate into an individual rating that will become the remaining 5 points of any given student's score. Each student will rate each team's overall performance as honestly as possible; I'll tally the points and figure out how each team ranks (i.e., which team got the most points?). Once the ranking has been figured out (and ties are possible), ranking points will be assigned: 5 points to the top-ranked team, 4 points to the second-ranked team, etc., down to a minimum of 2 points. The team's ranking points will be distributed to each individual team member. (Laid out this way, the system sounds more complicated than it really is.)
This creates exactly the sort of toxic psychology I didn't want to adulterate my classes with, but I can't see another way around this. Based on the scoring system I've devised, every team will be motivated to rate itself highest (and if all teams do this, the effect cancels out) while rating all the other teams as low as possible. My injunction to "rate honestly" will be adhered to with varying degrees of faithfulness; some of the more fair-minded students will rate equitably while other, more competitive students will rate as if they have an axe to grind. The statistical "static" created by all these crisscrossing motivations ought to produce something like a more or less fair individual rating.
0-10 points = teacher's individual eval
2-5 points = team's ranking points, as determined by the students
15 points possible.
Despite what I said about "more or less fair," above, this is a shitty, shitty thing to make the students do, but because grades right now are still so inflated, even after the midterm exam, steps must be taken to turn some of those low "A"s into high "C"s (no musical pun intended). I have to use ranking points instead of raw averages because there's a chance that the students will rate themselves and each other very highly, and I can't accept that sort of inflation. So the ranking points are themselves a microcosm of the college's grading curve, and yeah, I feel like a hypocrite for railing against the campus's curve while constructing my own.
Post-midterm, most of my students in all my classes still have "A"s, so there's no bell curve yet. I'll be morbidly curious to see whether a curve actually begins to form next week. In theory, it ought to be there, and when final-exam time comes around, the curve should be more pronounced, and I ought to have enough "C"s to satisfy the requirements for the back end of the curve—without too many "A"s clogging up the front end.