I‘ve used variations on a karma system in a number of classes over the last few years, but none as large as the 100-person “Media in the Information Age” last semester. It was something of a trial run, and there were imperfections. I guess it ranked the equivalent of a “revise and resubmit.” Two clear failures:
1. Built in competition among students. Since it was a curved class, giving points to others basically meant a hit to your own grade. This hit was so tiny as to have been inconsequential, at least at an individual level, but students made the rational decision to withhold karma in many cases because of this small disincentive.
2. People cheated. They colluded in giving karma to one another. In one case, a couple of students gave almost every point they had to one another. They each received a few points from the instructors and one or two from outside students, but they were trying to work the system. One of the rules of the system was that students could only give a single point for a posting. But this was on the honor system. You were also not allowed to give yourself points, which one of these people tried three times. The latter was not on the honor system–the program stopped and warned you if you tried.
At the end, I had to go through by hand and take away points that had been given multiple times. There were some minor offenders, which could easily have been accidental, and then these two major offenders. Once these were taken away, I got an angry email from one of the major offenders which indicated that since the system was flawed, he should be given free reign to work it however he wanted.
As an aside, although I demand no more respect as a prof than I would expect to get as a “regular” person, that respect is afforded less and less. Students increasingly see us as mere bureaucrats standing in the way of their A. Part of that is a generation of kids who were raised by parents who thought society owed them something. Many of these students have a sense of entitlement that is out of whack with reality. (And so do their parents, who more and more often are actually contacting professors on their children’s behalf, as if they were grade-schoolers.) This has been a problem in private schools for a while, but it is disappointing to see it in a public university. If these students are entering a work world treating their salaries as they have grades–something that they have an inherent right to–they will have a rough time of it. (Wow, that sounded a lot like a bitter capitalist, but it’s true.) Part of this feeling about profs probably comes from the way we behave in large classes. We are exasperated by the importance grades play in the lives of our students, yet we are drawn into the game of using them to “make” students read or discuss or come to lecture. Bah!
As for karma, I will be using it next semester, but in a much more restricted way. Karma will not be the same as course points. Unlike this semester, they will be entirely separate entities. Students will receive a certain number of course points for being among the body of participants in a discussion, and then more if they also receive a large number of karma points.
In essence, the discussion board will be greatly de-emphasized in comparison with this semester. The students, by and large, liked the idea, but it needs more work before it’s ready for prime time.