Developed at UTS and USyd, SPARK is billed as the “Self and Peer Assessment Resource Kit” (a backronym if ever I heard one). Much as you would fill out a super duper fun survey with a range of boxes from “I disagree” to “Somewhat agree”, SPARK lets you review the contributors to group assignments.

A few of my subjects at UTS have mandated its use. Presumably course coordinators are tired of dealing with dysfunctional groups, and are hoping students grading the performance of their peers will encourage everyone to perform better.

From the perspective of someone who otherwise does really well in SPARK peer reviews, I don’t think it succeeded. SPARK may be useful as a statistical tool, but it attacks the wrong issue: namely that students have different goals. A student wishing to grab a D or HD will not convince someone satisfied with a P to perform more work. For those people, a P may be all they need, or can provide due to other commitments.

One of Steve Ballmer’s legacies at Microsoft was the stack ranking system. Employees were measured not for their contributions and work ethic, but by ranks in teams. People who’ve since left Microsoft have routinely described what a toxic environment that breeds.

SPARK is benign compared to that; but it treads the same path.