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Monday, January 11, 2010

Team writing

Last spring, I taught a writing course for economics majors for the first time. As I gear up to teach it again, I am making a bunch of changes, particularly in how I structure the peer review process. Specifically, I am not calling it peer review or evaluation and instead, am going to try to get students to see themselves as 'co-authors' for their classmates. The big reason for this is that last year, I found that when asked to 'review' their classmates' work, the majority of students did not give very helpful feedback and when asked, they said that they did not feel qualified to critique someone else's work. I am hoping that by removing the idea of 'evaluating' or 'critiquing' from the process, and calling them 'co-authors' or 'teammates' instead, that students will start to think more along the lines of 'how would I make this better if I were writing it?'

However, I don't really want every assignment to be a group project so I'm challenged to find a way to have one student be the 'primary author', have a second student act as 'co-author' (without calling them a reviewer, editor, evaluator, etc.), and then assign grades in some ways that gives both students the right incentives. The first assignment is a simple data summary - students have to collect ten years of data on a variable related to employment, make some sort of graphic and write a couple paragraphs about it (this will be after a discussion of the BLS Employment Situation report and I am giving them the BLS website where they can find the data on several possible variables but not telling them which variable they have to use. Thus, each student may end up choose a different variable or they could all be the same, but the students will all have a similar background exposure to the variables in general). My plan is to have students exchange their reports with a 'teammate' (the prompt for the assignment has them as part of a team at a consulting firm and the boss wants two reports from the team), review them in class using a set of guiding questions, and give the teams time to discuss both reports. Then, both students have until the next class meeting to work on re-writing both reports, and they will come to the following class with separate revisions of both. I will give them some time in class to discuss the different versions of their reports and then they will tell me which version of each report they want to use as their final draft. Their grade will be based 75% on the grade for their own report and 25% on the grade for their teammate's report.

Basically, my objectives are a) each student write a first draft individually, b) students have an incentive to make their partner's paper as good as possible, and c) students actually work on revising papers (not just fixing typos), which I think may be easier for inexperienced writers to do with someone else's paper than their own, if they can get past the "but I'm not an expert" issue in their heads. A post-assignment assessment will ask students what they learned from the process that they can use to make their next paper better. But I have no idea if this is going to work...

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