Ideas and Strategies for Peer Assessments

Peer assessment is a broad term for a range of activities that include students in the act of evaluating and providing feedback on the work of their peers. It can be formative, where students give feedback on each other’s drafts before a final product is submitted, or summative, where students use a rubric to grade final submissions. Peer assessment is most commonly used with written work, but can also be used with presentations, performances, posters, videos and other types of assignments. It is also commonly used as a strategy for students to assess the contributions of their fellow students to group work and assignments. Students benefit from peer assessment in a number of ways: receiving more frequent and timely feedback than when the instructor is the only one providing it, getting feedback on drafts and being able to make improvements, and engaging in the critical analysis and reflection associated with assessing the work of their peers.

…if feedback processes are to enhance learning, we must move beyond a view of feedback as transmission and acknowledge the active role that students must play in such. (Nicol, Thomson and Breslin 2014)

How does peer assessment work?

Peer assessment can take many forms that can vary depending on the learning goals, the disciplinary or curricular context, and available technologies. Peer assessment is often characterized as taking either a formative or summative approach.

Formative Peer Assessment

  1. Students are introduced to the assignment and criteria for assessment
  2. Students are trained and given practice on how to assess and provide feedback
  3. Students complete and submit a draft
  4. Students assess the drafts of other students and give feedback
  5. Students reflect on the feedback received and revise their work for final submission
  6. Assignments are graded by the instructor
  7. Instructor reflects on the activity with the class

Summative Peer Assessment

  1. Students are introduced to the assignment and criteria for assessment
  2. Students are trained and given practice on how to use the grading rubric and provide feedback
  3. Students complete and submit a final assignment
  4. Students assess the assignments of 3 to 6 other students using the grading rubric and provide feedback
  5. Grades are determined for each student by taking the median score given by their peers
  6. Instructor and students reflect on the activity with an emphasis on reinforcing the learning that occurred in the giving of peer feedback

How can peer assessment improve student learning?

  • Clarifying assignment goals and criteria – The act of assessing peers requires students to examine assignment criteria more closely and gives them practice applying the criteria to multiple examples, giving them better ability to reflect on how their own work matches up against the criteria. Students can have different conceptions about learning goals and criteria from those of instructors (Hounsell, 1997; Norton, 1990). Through peer assessment practice, students will become familiar with assessment criteria and aware of the traits that distinguish successful performance from those that fail to meet the expectation.
  • More feedback, more quickly – Instructors are often unable to give frequent detailed feedback on multiple writing assignments. Instructor time is cited as one of the major factors limiting increased opportunities for students to practice writing and get feedback on their work (Cho and Schunn 2007). Also, students are often asked to wait for a couple of weeks until they receive feedback from an instructor/TA. Receiving feedback from multiple peers also provides potentially more diverse feedback and offers the chance to learn from different perspectives.
  • Learning through giving feedback – Students learn through the act of providing constructive feedback as it engages students in complex problem solving processes of diagnosing problems and suggesting solutions. Studies have shown that providing elaborated feedback that includes descriptions of problems and scaffolded solutions is the element of peer assessment that most benefits student learning (Lie et al. 2010, 2012; Topping et al. 2013).
  • Increased critical engagement with assignments – Peer assessment increases time students spend thinking critically about an assignment through “reviewing, summarizing clarifying, giving feedback, diagnosing misconceived knowledge, identifying missing knowledge and considering deviations from the ideal.” (Topping 1998) These activities help to reinforce and deepen learning.
  • Encourages reflective comparison – When students assess their peers’ work they are actively comparing their own work to their peers’ work with reference to assignment requirements, instructor expectations, and perceptions of quality (Baker 2016; Nicol, Thomson and Breslin 2014). Engaging students as critical readers of their peers’ writing also helps them develop a better understanding of how readers might interpret the texts they produce (Cho and Cho 2011; MacArthur 2010).
  • Active engagement – Peer assessment encourages active learning by engaging students in the feedback process rather than just being passive recipients of feedback from an instructor (Liu and Carless 2006; Cartney 2010; Nicol 2011). In so doing, they are alerted to the value of the feedback as opposed to seeing it as a justification for a grade. Peer assessment can help to provide opportunities for earlier feedback so that students can use it to improve their work through revising drafts or incorporating what they’ve learned into subsequent assignments. Studies show students are more motivated to engage with and use feedback when the immediate utility of that feedback is clear (Moore and Teather 2013). Opportunities to apply knowledge through practice and receive quality feedback on that practice are known to have positive impacts on student learning (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick 2006).
  • Improved understanding of their own work – Students develop the metacognitive capacity to think more critically about their own work through the evaluation of their peers’ work. Training and experience in peer assessment may also help to correct the adverse effects of students overestimating or underestimating their own performance and can result in students becoming more independent learners, lessening the dependence on feedback from instructors (Nicol, Thomson and Breslin 2014).
  • Increased opportunities for writing in the discipline – Including students in the process of providing feedback and possibly grading the work of their peers can be a way to incorporate more disciplinary based writing activities without placing too much additional burden on instructor time.
  • Development of lifelong skills – Peer assessment helps students develop lifelong, transferable skills such as engaging in critical review of the work of peers and colleagues, communicating feedback in a constructive and positive way, learning to accept the feedback of others and incorporating the feedback from multiple people into their work. This helps to prepare them to engage in these type of activities independently once they leave school.

“…students are not just learning by constructing meaning from feedback provided by others, rather they are learning by constructing feedback ‘meanings’ themselves .”(Nicol 2011)

Understanding different types of peer assessment

The concept of peer assessment is broad and thus can be implemented in a variety of different ways, so it is important to think through some of the basic elements that go into designing a peer assessment activity in light of the desired learning outcomes. (modified from Gielen 2010 and Topping 1998).

  • Object of assessment – What will students produce? (paper, web page, poster, presentation, video, group project participation/contribution) What skills are students expected to develop and demonstrate as they produce this artifact?
  • Product of peer assessment – What is the output that students create while assessing their peers? (grades, rubric, ranking, guided questions, qualitative feedback)
  • Formative or Summative – Will the final product be peer assessed for a grade or will students submit a draft product for peer assessment that they can revise before submitting to the instructor?
  • Grading – How will students be graded on the assignment? Will peer assessment replace the instructor assessment (substitutional)? Will students receive marks or feedback from both peers and instructors (partially substitutional)? Or, will peer assessment provide additional feedback but be primarily assessed by the instructor for the final grade (supplementary)? Will you give students feedback or assign a grade, with or without evaluation, for their assessments of their peers?
  • Reviewer organizationand directionality – How will peer assessors be assigned? (e.g. randomized, self-selected, instructor selected, small group, pair-matched). How many assessments will you require each student to complete? Will the reviews be anonymous or will there be dialogue between the peers reviewing each other?
  • Training – How experienced and confident are the students with peer assessment? How will students be trained to assess the work of their peers and provide feedback? At what point in the process does the training occur?
  • Frequency and positioning – Will there be multiple scaffolded activities across a term or a single peer assessed activity? Will the peer assessment be used to provide feedback at multiple stages in a larger assignment or at the end of an assignment? Will there be a ‘practice peer feedback activity’ to get students familiar and comfortable with this? Are students’ skills and familiarity built up over a series of courses at a curricular level or is this type of activity unique to your course?

Types of peer assessment

  • Formative Feedback – Students provide formative and constructive feedback on drafts that students are able to revise before submitting a final product. This can be done as a an in-class activity or using a variety of online tools, including in Canvas at UBC. The final grade is given by the instructor or TA. This can also be done using a sequence of assignments. Students get peer feedback after each assignment and then are able to apply the feedback to each subsequent assignment with the goal of improving over time.
  • Peer grading – Students assign grades to their peers based on assessment criteria. Peer grading is typically done using online tools that randomly and anonymously distribute assignments for review by a specified number of other students. Students grade their peers using an online rubric and final scores for a particular assignment are typically tallied by taking the median value of all peer grades that assignment has received.
  • Peer assessment of group work participation – Grading group work can be a challenge for instructors, because it is difficult to determine the contributions of each individual students. Many instructors use peer assessment to supplement instructor grades by adding a participation component to group assignments. Students give a participation score and overall comments for each group member using a rubric that is based on criteria that the instructor establishes. The instructor then uses these evaluations to give each student an overall participation grade for the assignment.

Tools

  • Canvas Peer Assessment tool
  • Peer Scholar
  • Compair
  • edX Edge Open Response Assessment tool
  • CLAS
  • UBC blogs
  • eportfolios

Strategies for Success — Use this as a guide as you design activities

  • Set expectations and clarify goals – Students are often apprehensive about peer assessment, particularly when peer grading is involved, but also with giving and receiving feedback. It is important to clarify expectations and goals of the activity for all involved to build trust at the beginning and get student buy in. Students could be asked to read one of the educational research studies on peer review cited in this guide.
  • Provide training for students – Especially for novice students, it is important to provide training activities to teach students how to assess their peers’ work and provide constructive feedback. This can help not just to increase the ability of students to conduct peer assessments, but improve students’ confidence in the process. In large classes, TAs will need to be trained first so they can provide training to students.
  • Model assessment and feedback – Model the act of assessing and giving feedback for your students by guiding them through the process of assessing some sample assignments. It helps to provide examples of assessed work that show varying levels of performance or indicate common challenges that you want students to focus on. This can be done through online modules or as in class activities.
  • Emphasize written feedback – While rating peers’ texts using rubrics and scoring criteria can improve students writing skills in certain contexts, studies show that students consistently benefit more from providing written feedback to peers than any other activities that are part of the peer review process (Lu and Law 2012; Wooley et al. 2008).
  • Encourage elaborated feedback – Novice peer reviewers tend to focus on surface level feedback and revisions, focusing on grammar or error corrections rather than meaning level changes. Giving specific instructions, training and guided feedback prompts can help to raise the quality of the feedback and resulting learning benefits. Studies show students benefit most from constructing feedback where they not only identify strengths and weaknesses but offer suggestions and strategies for improvement. (Patchan and Schun 2015)
  • Allow opportunities to apply feedback – Feedback is most useful when learners act on it. Design into the series of activities some opportunities for students to make revisions to their work and reflect on how the feedback they received influenced the revisions. It can also be helpful to have students reflect on the feedback and revision process. Why did they accept or reject suggestions? How did they modify their work after receiving feedback? How did evaluating the work of their peers change the way they saw their own work?
  • Allow adequate time and spacing for the process – In order to encourage a deeper level of engagement, begin the peer assessment process early in the term so that there is adequate time for students to reflect on the feedback they receive and apply it to their learning either through revision or on subsequent assignments. Studies have shown that revisions early in the process focused on substantial, content-based changes, while revisions close due date resulted in polishing edits focused on grammar, word substitution, and spelling (Baker 2016; Cho and MacArthur, 2010). In a short 12-week class schedule, the ideal design will start the peer review activities by week 3.
  • Align peer assessment to key learning goals – Make sure the peer assessment activities are aligned with core learning goals so that it is clear to students how the activities benefit their learning and are not perceived as an add-on assignment with little value. Peer assessment activities take considerable time and effort from students, but positioned strategically can help focus student effort and deepen critical engagement around key learning goals. If there are grades assigned for the giving of feedback, they must be weighted heavily enough to indicate the importance of this activity.

“While rating peers’ texts using rubrics and scoring criteria can improve students writing skills in certain contexts, students consistently benefit more from providing feedback to peers more than any other activities that are part of the peer review process (Lu and Law 2012; Wooley et al. 2008).” from Patchan and Schunn 2015

Challenges

  • Setup and monitoring time – Instructors often adopt peer assessment in hopes of integrating writing activities into their classes without adding too much of an extra time commitment. While peer assessment has shown positive learning benefits for students, there might not be time saving for the instructor in the short or medium term since there is a considerable amount of effort needed to design, implement, and monitor high quality activities (Topping 1998). In the long term, after the assignment has been designed and implemented, there may be time benefits.
  • Student acceptance – Even though many studies have shown peer assessed quantitative scoring to be reliable and valid when compared with instructor given grades, students may not accept peer assessment results as accurate or fair and are apprehensive about peers’ scores being used for grading (Carvalho 2013, K. Cho, Schunn, & Wilson, 2006, Topping 1998).
  • Student inexperience – Novice students lack both a high level understanding of subject matter issues and experience providing constructive feedback which presents challenges to peer assessment (Cho and Schunn 2007). These challenges need to be mitigated through scaffolding and training. Instructors must be realistic about the ceiling on students’ ability to provide deep feedback.
  • Moving beyond surface level engagement – Students new to critically reviewing their peers’ work may focus on providing positive comments or making surface level corrections rather than providing meaningful, high level feedback. Modeling effective feedback is important. Inexperienced student writers also may view revisions as “cleaning up” and revise their texts in a linear manner based on the feedback they receive rather than looking at the overall meaning and structure of their argument (Patchan and Schunn 2015).

Additional Resources

Summary of the research

The following is a summary of some of the peer reviewed research that shows evidence of the efficacy of peer assessment as a pedagogical tool:

Baker, K. M. (2016). Peer review as a strategy for improving students’ writing process. Active Learning in Higher Education, 17(3), 179-192.

This study focuses on assessing the peer review process rather than just the outcomes and looks at the impacts of timing and revisions based on the feedback students receive. Students were required to submit a draft paper for peer review four weeks before the final paper due date. Students used a rubric to anonymously evaluate one peer paper and were instructed to identify weaknesses and then offer suggestions to correct the problems. Students were then directed to review the feedback and use them to revise their draft before final submission. Results showed that the majority of students were successful in providing constructive feedback and made more meaning level changes to their drafts than surface level changes, contrasting a number of previous studies. The authors suggest this was likely the result of the formative focused process with early review, in class training and use of a structured rubric and guiding feedback questions. The study also suggests that the benefits of peer review do not just derive from producing feedback, but from producing critical reviews that are grounded in comparison to their own work and the work of other students.

Carvalho, A. (2013). Students’ perceptions of fairness in peer assessment: evidence from a problem-based learning course. Teaching in Higher Education, 18 (5), 491-505.

This paper explores the use of peer assessment to assessment student performance and group contributions in group work activities in a problem based learning course. Results showed that 70 percent of students expressed a positive experience with their peer graded group participation marks. There was, however, a cluster of students who were dissatisfied with the peer marking indicating the presence of bias related to friendship based marking and conflict arising from the marks within the group. Student perceptions of fairness are highlighted as a major factor that instructors need to consider before implementing similar peer grading approaches.

Cho, K., & MacArthur, C. (2011). Learning by reviewing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(1), 73-84.

In this paper, the authors address the important practical limitation in higher education that while students may receive ample practice writing in disciplinary courses, they may not receive adequate feedback or instruction. The study compared the quality of student writing across three conditions. Group 1 reviewed peer papers by scoring them with a rubric and providing written feedback. Group 2 read peer papers, but did not evaluate them or provide feedback. Group 3, the control group, did not read or evaluate peer papers. Results showed that the students who completed the peer review demonstrated significantly higher quality in the subsequent writing assignment than the other two groups. Students that only read peer papers showed slightly higher quality in their writing assignment than the control group. This findings support the initial hypothesis that the act of reviewing peers and providing feedback provides the most significant learning benefits in the peer review process.

Cho, K., Schunn, C. (2007). Scaffolded writing and rewriting in the discipline: A web-based reciprocal peer review system. Computers and Education, 48(3), 409-426.

This paper analyzes the impact of introducing a new peer review system, SWoRD is modeled after the peer review process used in journal submission. Through examining existing writing practices in higher education courses they found that students, especially in large content courses, get the opportunity to practice writing and rewriting. SWoRD was developed to provide more opportunities for feedback and revision through peer processes while being mindful of the challenges inherent in peer review that novice students lack the content knowledge and experience in providing feedback. In pilot studies, the authors found that use of SWoRD and associated peer review process was successful in improving student writing skills without increasing instructor workload. Their findings also indicate feedback provided by multiple peers led to more significant improvements in revisions of papers compared with feedback provided by experts

Gielen, S., Dochy, F., & Onghena, P. (2011). An inventory of peer assessment diversity. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(2), 137-155

This paper examines the literature on peer assessment practice to develop a framework to help researchers understand and describe the wide variety of different types of peer assessment activities being studied. The authors indicate that the term peer assessment is so broad that it may lead educators to confuse a wide range of disparate and potentially incompatible practices. The authors’ goal is to help practitioners understand the diversity of choices available and be more thoughtful in how peer assessments are designed and understood. The paper extends upon Toppings typology to add eight variables and eight implementation factors that can be used to describe peer assessment activities and used as a tool in design.

Kaufman, J. and Schunn, C. (2011). Students’ perceptions about peer assessment for writing: their origin and impact on revision work. Instructional Science, 39(3), 387-406.

This study looks to understand the negative perceptions of peer assessment often expressed by students. The authors analyze the end of course surveys from 250 students across 10 courses and 6 universities using a common online peer assessment tool. Student perceptions were most positive where instructors graded the work in addition to the students. The study then looks more closely at student experiences in one class, finding that students often identify peer assessment as unfair and believe peers are unqualified to assess their work. They find that negative perceptions of fairness often drop following the peer assessment activity, with the greatest factor in the positive change being whether students felt that the feedback they received was positive and helpful.

Liu, J. and Law, N. (2012). Online peer assessment: effects of cognitive and affective feedback. Instructional Science. 40(2), 257-275.

This study looks at the effects of online peer assessment on student learning, specifically looking at peer grading and peer feedback. The results of the study show that students benefit from providing feedback to peers more than any other activities that are part of the peer review process. Identification of problems and suggestions for improvement by peer assessors was a significant predictor of student performance for the students giving the feedback. Positive, affective feedback was related to the performance of the students being assessed. Peer grading behaviours were not identified as a significant predictor of performance. The study supports the idea that peer grading alone is not as effective as peer grading that includes written feedback.

Moore, C., & Teather, S. (2013). Engaging students in peer review: Feedback as learning. Teaching and Learning Forum 2013.

This paper outlines how peer review and feedback was integrated into teaching and assessment cycle of a third year social studies unit and looks at student perceptions of their experience with the peer review activity. Their findings show that there was a positive change in student attitudes around peer assessment between the pre and post surveys. Students initially expressed anxiety and hesitation, but after the activity expressed that they learned a lot from it and saw the benefits. Students expressed that they were nervous about peers seeing their work, but ultimately appreciated the feedback they received and enjoyed the opportunity to get new ideas from others, both in the feedback and in the opportunity to view their peers’ work. Students also reported that reviewing the work of others helped to clarify the assignment requirements and expectations. Students indicated, however, that they did not like it when peers marked their work or the activity was used just for marking.

Nicol, D., Thomson, A., Breslin, C. (2013). Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(1), 102-122.

This study uses student accounts of their experiences with a peer review activity to understand the learning benefits from both receiving and creating feedback. The findings show that producing feedback engages students in multiple levels of evaluative judgement where students compare peer work to their own writing as well as to the assignment requirements established by the instructor. This gives students greater control over the feedback process and practice in applying criteria to make judgements which can result in greater learner autonomy, ultimately reducing their need for feedback on their own work.

Potter, T., Englund, L., Charbonneau, J., MacLean, M. T., Newell, J., & Roll, I. (2017). ComPAIR: A New Online Tool Using Adaptive Comparative Judgement to Support Learning with Peer Feedback. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 5(2), 89-113.

In this paper the authors study the use of a newly designed peer assessment tool, ComPAIR, that was piloted in courses in Physics, English and Math courses at The University of British Columbia. The authors acknowledge that while peer assessment is known to be an effective pedagogical strategy, its effectiveness in introductory courses can be limited by lack of student knowledge depth in the content area and lack of experience in reviewing peers and providing feedback. Their approach aims to mitigate these challenges by providing a simpler peer assessment process that facilitates a process of direct comparison between two peer submissions. While novice students may find it difficult to directly assess the quality of a particular work in isolation, they contend that students are much more capable of making direct comparisons. Their results indicate that students reported the use of ComPAIR helped them to better understand course content, increased their ability to assess their own work and increased their ability to provide feedback to their peers.

Sluijsmans, D. M., Brand-Gruwel, S., & van Merriënboer, J. J. (2002). Peer assessment training in teacher education: Effects on performance and perceptions. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 27(5), 443-454.

In this study, the authors conducted an experimental study to test whether a peer assessment training lead to better peer assessment skills and improved performance in the content domain. A study was conducted in a course in a course on designing creative lessons. While student teachers in control group studies the domain-specific tasks, students in two experimental groups received 4 consecutive training on peer assessment where they defined criteria for peer assessment, discussed the purpose and guidelines for giving constructive feedback, and practiced the peer assessment task. Students in both control and experimental groups assessed the videotaped lessons of their peers. The results of this study reveals students who were trained in peer assessment showed better peer assessment skills: applying more criteria, giving more constructive feedback, etc. More importantly, students from the experimental groups did perform better on designing creative lessons than students from the control group.

Topping, K. (1998). Peer assessment between students in colleges and universities. Review of educational Research, 68(3), 249-276.

This paper provides a comprehensive review of the literature around the practice of peer assessment in higher education from 1980 through 1996. Topping summarizes the findings regarding the efficacy and perceptions around peer assessment and develops a typology to help characterize and understand the varied practices that have been described in the literature as peer assessment. Overall, the majority of studies indicated that peer assessment showed adequate reliability and validity across a wide range of applications and contexts. There was a minority of studies that found peer assessment reliability and validity low in certain contexts. Peer assessment was shown to be more reliable than self-assessment and acceptability to students did not show a strong relation to actual reliability. In the relatively high number of studies found related to peer assessment of writing, it was generally reported that outcomes were at least as good as teacher assessment and in some cases better.