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Condoning Free Loafers: What Do Role, Care, and Justice Have to Do with it?

Abstract

The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to explore students’ reactions to a case involving peer rating. We asked undergraduate and graduate students at a Midwestern liberal arts university to rate the performance of a close friend. To explore how role might impact the students’ decisions, we randomly assigned participants to one of two rating scenarios. In the first scenario, students rated a fellow student who had not completed his or her fair share of a group project. In the second scenario, students were asked to play the role of a professor who had to rate a peer. We found significant differences in the overall quantitative ratings assigned by participants in the two scenarios. Participants’ answers also involved more justice considerations in the professor scenario than in the student scenario. The results suggest that students may have difficulty in being honest during peer evaluation processes.

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Correspondence to Kaela L. Phillips.

Appendix 1: Scenarios

Appendix 1: Scenarios

Scenario 1

For the scenario below think of a close friend. This should be a person who is important to you. Have you thought of this person? As you read the scenario, mentally replace the blank spaces with the name of your close friend.

(__________) is one of your closest friends. You have worked together, enjoyed each other’s company, and helped one another. In fact, (________) has “saved” you on more than one occasion providing actual assistance or encouragement when you needed it the most.

Your professor has asked that each student writes a ten-page in-depth topic paper. This is the most important assignment for the class. Each student is assigned a partner who will grade the draft version of the paper (worth half the paper grade). The draft is expected to be in an “almost ready” state (e.g., good enough to share with the professor, while still allowing students to provide feedback to one another). The draft grade will be honored by the professor “as is” (e.g., the professor will assign exactly the grade you provide).

Normally, (________) is a strong student. This semester, however, he or she is experiencing serious family problems and is, thus, unable to work as hard as he/she normally would. You realize that the paper draft is extremely weak. In fact, your friend told you that the paper was written the night before it was due.

You must complete the form below and hand into the professor.

As you answer the questions below, you may assume that no one will find out if you are being honest. Your friend can rewrite the paper before it is seen by the professor.

Partner form

Partner’s name:____________________

Quality Criteria (please consider the items below as you grade the paper):

  1. 1.

    The paper provides strong evidence of research.

  2. 2.

    The paper is thorough.

  3. 3.

    The paper is well-written.

Based on items (1), (2), and (3) I assign the following grade:

  • Excellent (A)

  • Good (B)

  • Average (C)

  • Minimum standards (D)

  • Poor (F)

What grade would you assign?

  • Excellent (A)

  • Good (B)

  • Average (C)

  • Minimum standards (D)

  • Poor (F)

What was going through your mind as you rated your friend?

Scenario 2

For the scenario below think of a close friend. This should be a person who is important to you. Have you thought of this person? Try to imagine that you are not a student. Instead, you are both professors working at Drake University. Mentally replace the blank spaces with the name of your close friend.

(________) Is one of your closest friends. You and he/she have been friends since you started working for Drake University. You have worked together, enjoyed each other’s company, and helped one another. In fact, (________) has “saved” you on more than one occasion. For instance, there may have been situations in which you were “stuck” with course curriculum and he/she helped you find materials, brainstorm activities to keep learned engaged, and painstakingly listened to your lectures and provided feedback.

Peer review is a critical component of professors’ evaluations. This semester, the Dean has asked you to attend one of your friend’s lectures.

Normally (__________) is an excellent professor. This semester, however, (____________), has had serious family problems. This has impacted (________)‘s performance at work.

During the observation, you notice that (_________) did not come prepared to lecture and is often at a loss for words. Several of the students appear to be quite confused.

You are asked to complete the form below.

As you answer the questions below, you may assume that no one will find out if you are being honest. The Dean will take your word.

Professor Evaluation form

Professor’s name:____________________

Quality Criteria

  1. 1.

    The professor was prepared for class.

  2. 2.

    The content of the lecture matched the course requirements.

  3. 3.

    The lecture was easy to understand.

Based on items (1), (2), and (3) I assign the following grade:

  • Excellent (A)

  • Good (B)

  • Average (C)

  • Minimum standards (D)

  • Poor (F)

How would you rate the Professor’s lecture?

  • Excellent (A)

  • Good (B)

  • Average (C)

  • Minimum standards (D)

  • Poor (F)

What was going through your mind as you rated the professor?

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Phillips, K.L., Wildermuth, C.dMeS. Condoning Free Loafers: What Do Role, Care, and Justice Have to Do with it?. J Acad Ethics 17, 131–150 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10805-018-9314-5

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Keywords

  • Ethic of care
  • Ethic of justice
  • Role theory
  • Friendship
  • Higher education
  • Peer grading