Friday, January 3, 2014

Peer Assessment: Why? How?

Hey GTC!

For our last meeting of the fall quarter, we were led through a workshop on peer assessment by our very own Melody Schmid. Below is a summary, provided by her, which outlines the central questions and concerns we addressed in relation to this very popular student-engagement technique:

What is peer assessment?

Peer assessment (PA) is when students evaluate, or are evaluated by, their peers. Students can also give/receive feedback to/from their peers. PA occurs in many different forms (writing, presentations, group projects) and can be customized to meet your educational goals. PA can take place in-class or out-of-class. It is a form of active learning where students think about what they are doing. It can also be a form of collaborative learning. Everyone present at our discussion had experience with peer assessment as students (mostly peer feedback on writing) and some of us have used it in our classrooms when teaching (including using it to assign individual grades to group projects).

Why use peer assessment?

PA allows students to learn critical evaluation skills. These are professional skills that they will use in the workplace. With PA, students more clearly understand expectations because assessment criteria are clear and this can help them with their own self-assessment skills as well.

PA allows students to exchange ideas with each other. Students get to see what others achieve and this can “raise the bar” by exposing students to excellent work. PA can encourage students to put in more effort because they are responsible to their peers, not just themselves.

PA allows students to engage with course material more deeply because they must understand it to evaluate it. Students can answer each other’s lower-level problems, allowing the teacher to focus on higher-level problems.

PA can create a sense of community in the classroom through increased student-student interaction. Students can receive a wider range of feedback and this helps them become better writers, readers, and collaborators. PA allows students to practice writing for diverse audiences and communicate their ideas in writing.

Possible disadvantages

PA can use up a lot of class time, but this could be good use of class time in a flipped classroom. Students may lack the ability to evaluate each other or they may misinform each other. Students may not take peer assessment seriously. But if introduced properly, these disadvantages can be avoided.

How can we use peer assessment?

Start with your learning objectives. Select assignments for which peer feedback will help students meet your learning objectives. Break large assignments into small chunks and use peer assessment early in the process so students receive feedback early and often.

It is important to explain the benefits of the peer review process with your students. Teach the skills required for peer review! Students should be readers, not graders. They should not line edit, they should just underline problem areas.

Design a rubric with clearly defined tasks for the reviewer. Introduce the rubric to students so expectations are clear before they start working on the assignment. If possible, include the rubric in the syllabus so students know from day 1 what the expectations for the assignment are. Or, you could consider allowing students to design the rubric.

Model descriptive feedback and constructive criticism for the students. Share examples of feedback of varying quality and discuss what kinds of feedback are useful. Have students practice assessment before assessing their peers. You can provide examples of good and bad assignments for them to evaluate.

Discuss how students can respond to and use the feedback they receive. They will need an open mind and thick skin! Students should have a chance to revise their assignment after the peer review process!

Many aspects of PA can be customized to fit your learning goals. You can choose to use multiple reviewers for a wider range of feedback or create more individual responsibility by not using multiple reviewers for the same assignment. You can choose to use online programs for anonymous feedback or increase student-student interaction by having them share their feedback verbally instead of just written. You can maintain groups to build trust or switch them up to share different points of view.

Improving the effectiveness of peer feedback

Feedback should be: frequent and detailed, timely so comments can be incorporated into final assignment, acted upon, appropriate to the aim of the assignment, and focused on student’s performance and on actions under the student’s control, not on the student. You can use directed questions that reviewers must answer to stimulate comments. It is important to train students to provide constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement. You can grade the feedback quality and have the assesse reflect on and reply to the assessor’s comments.


The information above is mostly from our discussion on December 5, 2013 and from the Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence website. This is an easy to read website that covers many aspects of college teaching and provides links to some great references. I found the “Peer Assessment”, “Using Rubrics” and “Active Learning” pages useful for this discussion. I also got some great information on improving feedback from the paper “Improving the effectiveness of peer feedback for learning” by Struyven et al, Learning and Instruction, 20 (2010), pages 304-315.

Like what you see here? Consider coming out for our next workshop series, to be held during weeks 2-10 of winter quarter. Details to follow - till then, take care!

(Posted by Sarah Messbauer)