Thousands of UTSC students who graded each other’s work in a first-year psychology class have been offered compensation through the union that represents teaching assistants. Students have until the end of April to file their claim. They will be paid just over $30 per hour for having worked either 54 or 90 minutes.

In 2003, professor Steve Joordens used Peerscholar, a peer grading program created by Joordens and U of T alum Dwayne Paré. Each student anonymously graded six peer submissions per assignment, which were averaged to determine the assigned grade. Students unhappy with their mark could approach their TAs for their work to be remarked. The class had 250 students in the summer semester and 1,500 in the fall semester.

CUPE 3902, which represents TAs and sessional lecturers, filed a grievance with U of T in 2006 and said that peer grading was using students as “cheap labour.” In January 2009, an arbitrator ruled that by grading assignments, students were doing work that falls under unionized labour. U of T was unable to overturn the ruling.

Following the lawsuit, Joordens changed the program so that students rate each other’s work to help in revising assignments before having them graded by TAs. While this allows the program’s use without violating labour law, Joordens said he worries that students will not put as much effort into something that does not count toward a grade. He called the union’s victory an attempt to block educational progress, adding that TAs will now be stuck marking stacks of papers.

CUPE staff representative Mikael Swayze said that Joordens is downplaying his financial interest in the program. Joordens is retooling Peerscholar under a licensing agreement with Pearson Education. “This is a proprietary technology [that has been] commercialized. The fact that he has rarely disclosed his personal financial interest in PeerScholar is troubling […] though he was forthright about it under oath at the hearing,” said Swayze.

Joordens said he was offering students an activity to enhance the development of critical thinking and communication skills. He gave what he called the “everybody wins” scenario, where the university uses the original version for some proportion of the total mark on the condition that no TA hours are lost.

“Students have been performing bargaining unit work and [under] Collective Agreement they should be paid,” said Swayze. “There is no evidence that [peer grade assignment] enhances the learning experience. Amongst peers, there is a disincentive to fail others [or] give stellar grades. An outsider […] gives a more accurate grade.”

Show me the money: Students respond to the payout

U of T has emailed around 6,600 students who are eligible for payment. Over $283,000 has been set aside to settle the case. Money left over will be used in a scholarship fund. To make a claim, students are required to submit a form, documentation, and a SIN to register as employees of the university.

“Because I am a ‘starving student’ […] I will be making a claim,” said Alyssa Matchett, who will receive $43.65 less deductions. Matchett said she was surprised to see a settlement three years after she took the course.

Another student, Vito Oriente, said he was disappointed in the outcome of the case. “I see it as reflective of the world we live in, one that is ruled by the almighty buck,” he said. “If you take something from me, I get to take something from you.”

Gary Michael Rodrigues, a graduating student, said he would have preferred a mark increase instead of money. He said it was unfair that students who do not have pay information on file have a deadline to collect their payment. “The payment should have been credited to their ROSI account,” said Rodrigues.

Eligible students with queries about claims are advised to contact Kim Richard, director of human resource services at UTSC, at 416-287-7077.

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