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« The Historical Novel in Europe, 1650-1950 | Main | Perhaps I'm missing the blatantly obvious, but... »

January 27, 2010


Brandon Watson

This has been much on my mind recently, in part because one of the requirements for the faculty development portfolio I recently had to do involved providing examples of student work with my written comments. I always try to do at least 'general gist' comments, with an example or two to clarify; and on particular assignments I will even give lists like 'Two things that would have improved this paper' on every one of them. And, of course, there are comments that are not written (in class and the like). But it's impossible to say whether any of this is of any value -- as you say, they clearly don't always even bother to read them. I rather worry that in practice comments are often nothing more than things instructors can point to if the student protests the grade.

I recently started making peer review part of one of the assignments, and there was definite improvement in the quality of the work I received, even though the students didn't even have to revise in light of the peer comments (this being philosophy, all they had to do was write a short discussion of whether they agreed with the peer reviewer in their criticism of the paper, and why or why not). Apparently, at least in philosophy, students will put more of an effort into some things if they think someone is going to see it who is not an instructor, even though the instructor is the reader who determines the grade. I have no idea what conclusion to draw from this.


Can I just take this opportunity to say how irritating I've found these Henry Adams articles? I don't want to accuse the author of stretching the truth (for all I know, he could have attended such a highly dysfunctional program), but I can't help but feel that he's 1) exaggerating the truth, or at least placing undue emphasis on the negative aspects of his experience, and 2) playing up his role as plain-talkin', straight-shootin' man from the sticks brining some sanity to this crazy English graduate school business. It all just seems a bit whiny and self-important. Or perhaps I'm just blind to all of the indignities of the profession?

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