Now look at this: a grading system based on Slashdot and karma (scroll down to read about karma, it’s under Assignments). Alex Halavais’s Media in the Information Age course, taught last autumn, had students write 500-1000 word responses each week. Students were given karma points to award to the responses they thought were best. A multiple choice concept test set a base level grade for each student (less than 40% was an F no matter what else the student did, 40%-70% was a D no matter what else you did, above 70% got you to C and you could get higher through karma points based on your weekly responses. Here’s the description of the karma system:
Points not used by Monday cannot be carried over to the next week.
At the end of the semester, the average number of karma points for those in the top 15% of the class will be fixed as an A. For each person who passes the competency exam with a score of 70% or more, the final grade will be determined based upon the percentage of this maximum each student achieved.
And, of course, there’s an online system for awarding karma.
Mind you, it didn’t quite work. At the end of the semester, Alex wrote about how students cheated, and how some withheld karma from others because it would lower their own grade a tiny bit. Also, a good many students decided they weren’t going to score well on the karma anyway, so they just stopped going to class and decided C was good enough.
The next semester, Alex didn’t use karma. Instead he used a point system where you were awarded points for things like unannounced quizzes in class, responding to a survey, participation in online discussions, participating in departmental research, astute comments in class as well as conventional things like exams. There’s a really clear list of how many points you need for a particular grade (scroll down the page linked to above to read all the details) and the points required to get an A are well below the maximum possible number of points – so there are many ways to a good grade.
In Norway university teaching is undergoing huge changes, from being a practically medieval system of lectures with no participation and a huge final exam at the end of the year determining your entire grade, to a much more modern, participatory system that’s a lot more like the American or Australian systems. Now we can grade students in creative ways like those Alex has tried out, but in practice this is going to take a while. Most courses still have either a final exam, a term paper, an oral exam or (and this is a radical new concept here) a portfolio assessment. I think we need to see lots of examples of alternatives to move assessment to being more in line with the process-based, socio-constructivist [INSERT more buzzwords here] teaching we’re beginning to implement.