Setting up peer assessment for success
As more classes move online in the wake of the pandemic, it’s increasingly important for faculty to stay on top of student progress, performance and general well-being. Peer assessment allows for students and their peers to stay in close contact with instructors through regular assignments that provide feedback for improvement. In large online classes, peer assessment can create room for assignments where the creative output of students would otherwise be very difficult to grade with automation or to manage with additional teaching staff.
Formative assessment expert Heidi Andrade, an associate professor in the School of Education at the University at Albany, SUNY, has worked with schools across the U.S. to promote learning-centered assessment. As part of Arts Achieve, a large-scale arts assessment research project undertaken in 2010-2015 by Studio in a School and the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Arts and Special Projects, Andrade created a series of videos on implementing formative and peer assessment in the classroom.
According to Andrade, there are three main criteria for effectively implementing formative assessment:
- Clarifying criteria for performance
- Ensuring students receive useful, timely feedback
- Following up that feedback with opportunities to revise and improve upon their work
Research shows that formative assessment, when effectively implemented, “can effectively double the speed of student learning” (Wiliam, 2007).
“If we’re just giving students grades or scores, that doesn’t count as assessment that promotes learning,” says Andrade. “What counts as assessment that promotes learning is when students get feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, guidance on how to improve their own work and an opportunity to work on the improvement.”
For most faculty, that’s a pipe dream. Delivering personalized feedback in a class of 50 (or worse, a class of 400) is next to impossible. But that’s where peer assessment can come into play.
“The teacher is not the sole source of quality feedback in the room,” says Andrade. “Under the right conditions, students can be useful sources of feedback for themselves and for each other.”
For peer assessment to work, says Andrade, strong criteria and descriptive levels of quality, or rubrics, are foundational.
“For me, the most important purpose of rubrics is to support students in thinking about the quality of their own and each others’ work and guiding revision.” The criteria guide the critique, which needs to be constructive, seeking clarification and should lead to suggestions that will improve the work.
“You cannot give good feedback on a piece of work that you don’t understand,” says Andrade. “You have to ask questions of clarification that can’t be thinly-veiled critiques.”
Rubrics, according to Andrade, can improve student performance, as well as monitor it; help students become more thoughtful judges of the quality of their own and others’ work; reduce the amount of time teachers spend evaluating student work; and finally, they’re easy to use and explain what is expected of students (Learn more about Kritik's customized rubrics here).
Every class and every discipline has different types of assignments that can be effective forms of peer assessment. And while there’s no single solution for any course, there’s a wide variety of assignments that are well-suited to peer assessment.
7 Ways to implement peer assessment in your class
1. Practical work
Let your students experiment with practical skills under the watchful eye of their peers. Often, the feedback they receive is more candid and valuable than what they might get from a tutor, whose presence might actually inhibit a student’s ability to perform in the first place. It’s more natural and likely to generate more useful feedback in something like a lab report when the ideas are coming from a group of peers.
There’s good and bad practice in writing lab reports and doing case analysis—when students hear about it from their peers it helps them become more aware of how important coherence, structure and layout can be on the final product.
3. STEM problem sets
A quick and easy assessment strategy, looking for correct answers in peer work—like performing code reviews in engineering, etc.—opens a window into where their peers went wrong/right in their thinking. By seeing the errors others have made by evaluating their logic, notation and problem solving skills, students can pinpoint trouble spots to avoid in future.
4. Presentations and peer instruction
Let your students know what to look for in their peers’ presentations: Are they presuming too much knowledge? Are they talking too much and not engaging the room? Is their argument logical? Armed with the right guidelines they’ll be able to make sound judgements on the work of their peers and gain insights in how they might improve their own work.
Harness the power of your student’s curiosity—assign them the task of creating questions about the lecture that are shared with the rest of the class. Not only will their peers have the chance to improve their own understanding by answering the question, they can evaluate the quality and usefulness of it, providing feedback for improvement.
6. Essay plans
Before they share the final paper, get your students to share their essay outlines too. By reviewing how others plan their content and structure their arguments before actually writing an essay, this kind of scaffolding assignment allows students to share a wide variety of ideas for improvement in a short period of time and to apply the lessons learned to their own essay writing in future. When it comes time to evaluate the final submission, students can see how their peers’ thinking evolved from the original plan, giving them insight into the quality of feedback that was provided—and how it was applied—along the way.
7. Team-based learning
To implement team-based learning, break your class up into diverse groups of 5-7 students who will be working together during class time (whether that's online or in-person). Before each class, students are asked to prepare by doing a set of readings, which they're quickly evaluated on at the start of class to gauge comprehension. Spend the remainder of the class working in groups on problems or challenges that allow the student teams to apply and extend what they've learned in the pre-class readings. Groups must arrive at a consensus solution to the problem they've been tasked with and present it to the class for discussion and feedback. A version of the flipped classroom, the kind of interactive engagement methods used in team-based learning have been shown to result in learning gains almost two standard deviations higher than those observed in traditional courses.
Learn more about how educators are utilizing Kritik in unique ways to put peer assessment into practice.
Wiliam, D. (2007). Content then process: Teacher learning communities in the service of formative assessment. In D. B. Reeves (Ed.), Ahead of the curve. The power of assessment to transform teaching and learning (pp. 183-204). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.