The pros and cons of peer grading in online courses

While it may not be suitable for everyone, online courses, now commonly referred to as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), are becoming an increasingly popular option for college students. However, in such classes, students will face a unique set of challenges, including little interaction with others, keeping motivated, and peer grading. For those of you new to the subject, peer grading, potentially one of the most controversial topics among online education professionals, is when students in online courses evaluate work by other people in the same course.

To help you learn more, here is a short list of the pros and cons of peer grading in online courses:

Effectiveness – Peer grading can be effective in environments where students are mature, similarly skilled, and have developed sophisticated communications skills. However, some educators feel it is only appropriate for assignments or courses that aren’t for a grade or credit.

Enhanced learning – Students can get academic value from peer grading. When they are forced to pay attention and comment on another student’s work, they will gain a better—and possibly more comprehensive—understanding of the subject covered in the course.

Accuracy – According to a University of Washington study, students were 25 percent more generous in grading than teachers. This means they may be more forgiving on written tests or willing to turn the other cheek if they know a peer is not living up to or meeting academic standards.

Variability – Great students don’t necessarily make great teachers. Student peer graders may very well be unprepared to provide constructive academic feedback to another student. Additionally, in today’s global melting pot academic environment, cultural and language barriers could exist in the online classroom and will increase the difficulty in which students have in performing the role of a peer grader.

Anonymity – While online courses may give students the chance to interact with people from all over the country, that doesn’t mean they will know one another or ever meet in person. One the one hand, this protects student privacy, but, on the other, it means students won’t be able to ask for clarification or gauge the feedback based on the provider’s skill set. Additionally, students not mature enough to handle constructive criticism could retaliate with nasty or mean comments, which would not be tolerated in a traditional classroom setting.

Plagiarism – Long frowned upon by academic institutions, plagiarism may be more difficult to detect through peer grading in the MOOC environment.

In short, peer grading has a number of pros and cons. While it can be an incredibly useful part of the online experience, it will only be as successful as the students and teachers of any given course will allow it to be. Today, educators are still experimenting with this tactic, and the insights they will gain through future research and observation will continue to evolve and drive forward online learning.

About the Author:
Tiffany Sumner is a freelance writer for eLearners, where she writes articles on a wide range of topics. In her spare time she reads, writes fiction, and watches way too many cat videos online. You can follow her on Google+.

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