Marx famously depicts the worker under capitalism as suffering from four types of alienated labour. First, from the product, which as soon as it is created is taken away from its producer. Second, in productive activity (work) which is experienced as a torment. Third, from species-being, for humans produce blindly and not in accordance with their truly human powers. Finally, from other human beings, where the relation of exchange replaces the satisfaction of mutual need.It seems that ownership might be the solution. If students get to keep and work more on their products (I'm thinking in terms of papers) then they might be happier about producing them. This also makes comments more meaningful. They also might be happier if they had more say in what they wrote about, what sources they used, how much of their grade any given paper counted for, and so on. They might be even happier if they had some say in what percentage of their grade was for papers, what for exams, what for participation, etc. And alienation from their fellows might be reduced if they had opportunities for group work.
The obvious drawbacks are that students might end up being expected to run before they can walk (knowing what is a good topic to write on, what is a good source to use, and so on), that allowing revision means more grading (which takes time away from other work and might discourage students from trying to get things right first time), and that this kind of approach might lead to chaos, with probably too easy a time for students and too much work (grading and keeping track of student choices) for professors.
But I wonder. You could always offer limited choices. E.g. have a default assignment plus the option of writing on a subject of your choice, so long as you check it with the professor. And I always feel more justified in being a tough grader when I know there are opportunities for revision.
I'm toying with the idea of counting papers as either 30 or 40%, the final exam as either 30 or 40%, and class participation (including a grade for a debate and possibly a report--see below--and reduced for lack of preparation for class*) as either 30 or 40% of the final grade in my courses (so whichever of these was the student's strong point would count for 40% and the others 30%). And one of my colleagues says he has students report in class on three papers they have found on a course-related subject of their choice. This works very well, he says. It sounds possibly worth a try.
Here's what I'm thinking of doing. In introductory-level courses there would be no in-class reports on independently found journal articles (in higher level courses there might be), but there would be three in-class debates over the semester, with each student given the opportunity to take part for credit (with a grade based on preparation and performance). Those who choose not to participate would have to write a paper instead. For most students, the debate grade would be 10% of their final grade and general class participation would count for an additional 20%. Students would lose points for not bringing a short written response to (i.e. on) the reading assigned for each day's class. Those whose participation grades were really high could have this whole grade be expanded from 30 to 40%.
There would also be six (short) essays to write. One could be blown off completely, but all others would have to be at least written to passing standard or else this part of the grade (30 or 40%) would be reduced. Of these good-enough-to-pass essays, the best three (for 30% total) or four (for 40% of the final grade) could be re-written as many times as humanly possible. Only the best essay grades would count at the end of the semester.
And then there would be a cumulative, all essay exam (four essays written in three hours) which would count for either 30% or 40% of the student's final grade.
I wonder what others might think, and whether the connection with Marx has been made before. I'd be surprised if it hasn't, but I don't know what has been made of it. Has any of this been tried and found to fail? Is it all too confusing? Anyone else do something similar with good results? Or have I left it all too abstract for anyone to judge (or even tell what I'm talking about)?
*I dislike the idea of giving credit for proving that you have done the assigned reading (since its being assigned ought to mean that all students do it or else do not meet the basic criteria for passing the course), but I quite like the idea of taking points off students who fail to provide evidence that they have done it. The kind of evidence I mean would be bringing a very short response to the assigned reading each class.