Today we read the most recent collaboratively-written essay that I assigned my classes with MixedInk. We’re currently studying Congress and its operation. For the past few years I’ve had my classes read excerpts from a book by Morris Fiorina about the true operations of Congress, which he argues are pork barreling and casework rather than law-making. Typically, this essay proves challenging for students given the high level of writing, sophisticated vocabulary, and relatively nuanced argument. Most importantly, I think the essay is really interesting and it certainly provides a different look at Congress than we get from our rather benign (if not celebratory, in a political socialization kind of way) textbook.
Before we read the final winning essay, I led my class off today with a question for which I asked the students to write a brief paragraph response: “What criteria were most important in your evaluations and ratings of the MixedInk essays?” I’m interested in process-oriented questions like these to not only make students more aware of their own intellectual approaches, but also because I’m interested in doing some data and anecdote collection in preparation for my upcoming presentation on MixedInk in the classroom at this summer’s ISTE Conference.
The above picture is a list that my A Period class generated today. The numbers in parentheses next to each criterion reflects how many students included that element in their responses. The aspect I found most interesting (but also one that came out later in our conversation) had to do with one rating essays based on the author’s perceived academic reputation (which in many cases is well-deserved). One initial question I had when exploring MixedInk and discussing its implementation with the site’s founder, Vanessa Scanfeld, is how high school’ social dynamics play out in the evaluation process. Well, it appears that social dynamics and reputations do play a significant role in the minds of most students. However, whether this element is stronger than the other criteria is another area for further investigation that I’ll have to pursue.
The final point — that students avoided reading and rating essays that were too long — I interpreted as reflecting both an aversion to voluminous reading, and the pragmatic necessity to do other homework.
I’ll be interested to see if this pattern continues to hold true for my other classes, or if they’re willing to be as honest with me regarding their approach as A Period was. Perhaps it was simply the early hour that caused my students to let down their guard and speak honestly about how they approached this task, but I think not. In the next go-round of MixedInk I’ll try using pseudonyms (or more likely random numbers) that will at least provide a mild deterrent to students in terms of know who the author is. However, I have no illusions that this measure will be a fool-proof one as students will nevertheless likely share their identities, but this at least makes those snap judgments and evaluations based merely on name alone (hold on, am I writing about peer evaluation dynamics or the appeal of shopping at Neiman Marcus?) slightly more difficult.
FY-collective-I, here’s the link to the text we read. If anyone has tricks about how to embed a Google Books document into WordPress, I’d be very interested to hear them. My standard VodPod trick isn’t working here. C’est la vie.