Latin American Economic Development

The project focused on the course entitled "Latin American Economic Development - LASP 316, which had 25 students enrolled, including seniors and juniors from the McDonough School of Business, School of Foreign Service, and Georgetown College. This course is designed for students who want to earn a certificate in Latin American studies or have regional concentration in LA.

I asked my students to write response papers to a previously assigned group project. This is the first time I have ever asked my students to review their classmates' work. The group project was worth 20% of the students' final grades and it was expected to be graded in two separate phases. Half of its grade was determined by the quality of the report that the students wrote, and the other half of the grade was determined by the quality of the students' grading of the other four group projects. I was responsible for making sure that the grades given by the students to their classmates were fair and reflected the quality of the reports. We didn't use much technology in this assignment. However, we did use the Blackboard platform for exchanging the electronic files of the reports and the response papers among class members. In addition, students presented their projects in class using either Power Point or Prezi softwares.

My main goal was to learn about successful practices that promote students' self-assessment and peer-review assignments. I wanted to reduce the time I spend grading so that I can dedicate more efforts into class preparation. I also wanted my students to develop greater awareness of their educational strengths and weaknesses and how they compare in relation to other classmates.

Due to the fact that the response paper to the group reports was due on the last day of class, I wasn't able to assess possible improvements to a student's performance after s/he was exposed to their classmates work. I did, however, have the opportunity to talk with the class about their experience of grading their classmates for about 20 minutes. Their feedback was extremely positive overall. They said that the exercise of grading their peers helped them to become more critical of their own performance in the assignment. Some acknowledged having developed greater appreciation for their professors' role as graders. One student actually complained of getting tired of the grading and that she couldn't do that type of job for a living! I did ask the students if the group project and the peer reviewing assignments should be given again to my other classes and they strongly encouraged me to do so. The students' response papers to their classmates' projects also allowed me to see how thorough they were in their critique of their peers. Another great advantage of the peer reviewing assignment was that the students were able to learn about the other countries that they did not originally examine. Each of the five groups wrote a report on three countries and had to grade the reports on other twelve countries in Latin America. I believe they came out of the class with a good grasp of the major economic and political trends in the region.

I now think that whenever possible it is worth including some form of peer-reviewing assignment in the course program. These requirements enhance the students' self-assessment skills and as such help them to mature academically faster. In my experience in LASP 316, in particular, I have underestimated the amount of work and time that the group report and the response paper would require from the students. These two assignments should have been worth at least 40% of the students’ final grade, and not 20% as I originally determined.