I've been a little bit frustrated with the way the discussion session for my calculus class has been going recently. That time is set aside as a time for students to ask whatever questions they have, without me lecturing on any new content. Of course, generally the questions they have are 'can you do this homework problem?' or 'I got stuck on this problem, can we go through it?'. Generally, those are fine questions that I'm happy to answer. However, I'm getting the impression that many of the students have not yet looked at the assignment yet, and are just waiting for me to do half of it for them. Of course, this'll come back to bite them on the exam, but it's fairly frustrating all around. So I've been trying to decide what to do about it.
It occurred to me today that even just answering those questions asked by the students who have looked at the assignment isn't very efficient. If they've already started, but gotten stuck, it'd be fairly quick for me to sit down with them individually, find their error, and send them on their merry way. Even there, though, that's not what I should be doing. It's easy for me to spot errors, generally. Especially when I've already looked at the problem with several other students. But it would be hugely valuable for students to be able to find their own mistakes. It can be maddening trying to find your own mistakes, of course, but it's an important skill to have.
A good way to practice finding mistakes, even if they get all of their own problems correct, would be to help identify mistakes in other people's work. Of course, this process can be ironed out a little online. I am envisioning a system where students can go and enter the work they have on a problem, up to the point where they got stuck. Then other students could go and try to find errors in people's work. This way people that get stuck can get help whenever it's convenient for them (as opposed to waiting for office hours or something), and students can practice finding errors in work.
It seems there should be some sort of credits system involved. At the beginning of the semester, students have, say... 3 credits, or 5 or something. A credit gives you permission to ask a question. To earn credits, you submit a bug report on another person's question. Perhaps a bug report just identifies what line the error occurs on, without identifying the error. And I guess answers would need to be verified before credit is added to the person who submitted the answer. Perhaps the person asking the question verifies it?
That's about as far as I've taken the idea today. Clearly there'd have to be an easy way to enter work, perhaps with some sort of graphical formula editor. Also probably some anonymity, so you can see questions, but not who submitted them (nor who answered them?). It also seems like what might happen is that the people who have the most questions might have a hard time spotting other people's mistakes in order to earn credits to ask more questions. So perhaps there's a way to account for that. Something like... if you earn lower than an N on the exam, each point less than that gets you a free credit?
Anyway, that's a day's thought on the idea. What do you all think? Do you know of a system that does something like this already? Could something like the above idea be worthwhile and helpful? How could it fail? Where does it need improvement? What additional policies might you use?