Motivating Inactive Students with Peer Assessment

Discovering what Motivates Students

Peer assessment is widely recognized as an effective pedagogical approach to increase students' understanding of course material and collaboration in the classroom. However, despite these well documented benefits there are still obstacles to peer assessment that must be addressed, a large one being the issue of motivating and engaging inactive students. 

With inactive students comes the threat of poor feedback quality, as students don't put enough time or effort into the feedback they give. Unfortunately, this reduces the benefits of peer assessment to the students that do put in a good effort. To properly address and combat this issue, we must first understand why it is that students become disengaged and what we can do to ensure their participation. 

Peer Feedback: Make it count

When considering how to best motivate students, an important aspect to remember is that every stage of their learning needs to count towards something. There are a few key aspects to learning in a typical peer assessment, as students are required to: create, evaluate, analyze, and finally apply with the end result being an improved understanding. Studies indicate that by providing students with incentives to participate in every stage, such as making them all count towards their grade,  their willingness to actively participate improves dramatically (Ashenafi, 2017). Every student has different learning styles and excels in different areas, so by providing motivation to participate in all levels of the peer assessment process, we allow these students the opportunity to excel in their own right.   

“We know that every student engages and learns differently so while they may be quiet in class, they might provide wonderful feedback to their peers through the peer assessment process.” - Dr. Michael Jones, See more here. 

It is important to ensure that all aspects of the peer assessment process, including the creation, evaluation, and feedback stages, all count towards grading. When this occurs, students become more motivated to participate instead of only focusing on their own submission and the grades it receives. By adding a grading weight that impacts final marks at each stage of the process, students are also more inclined to give thoughtful evaluations and feedback to their peers. Kritik embraces this unique approach to peer assessment, which also ensures that students receive actionable feedback on how they can improve their evaluation skills. See a breakdown of the customizable grading scheme of a typical Kritik assignment below: 

The value of giving and receiving feedback

Peer assessment at its core is designed with the goal of enhancing student learning by enabling students to become a thoughtful evaluator. Having to think critically and analyze their peers' work enables students to develop a deeper understanding of course materials than they would if they were just simply submitting an assignment to an instructor. This teaches students to become expert analyzers, and helps them learn to read through a lens that is constantly seeking out ways to improve. 

“[Kritik] empowered them to speak up, engage and participate more. They felt more comfortable actually expressing their opinions and they felt like what they had to say and the way they perceived things were correct.” - Dr. Daphne Hart, See more here. 

Students become motivated to improve their own work as they review their peers, because they see what other individuals in the same learning environment did well and what they can improve on. After reviewing various pieces of work done by their peers and receiving feedback from a diverse audience on their own work, students are able to efficiently improve and refine their skills. This feedback loop truly increases motivation among students, as they now start to see themselves as active participants in the assessment process rather than just a passive recipient of it. 

“Students should be part of the educational process and not consumers of it. Students feel valued when they feel like they’re part of the learning space where everyone is learning from each other.” - Dr. Jonathan Wisco, See more here.

It is valuable to immerse students in this type of environment, where like minded individuals can learn new skills from their peers and then apply and experiment with the skills they learn. This facilitates a very positive outlook to the learning process, as many students are longing to see school become more applicable to their everyday lives. As is mentioned in this article, providing a curriculum that is both relevant and reflective ensures maximum retention and participation among students. 

Progress that’s measured

Offering student’s the ability to track their progress and monitor how close they are to achieving specific class or personal goals is another impactful aspect to a student’s motivation and engagement. This is certainly a challenge in peer assessment because the immediate impact of a student's contributions is not necessarily visible right away. This can be detrimental to students who are hyper aware of tracking their progress and like to see the rewards for their hard work in all aspects of an assignment. With Kritik, students' evaluations and feedback are rewarded not only with marks, but also with increased grading power which is something students can strive to increase. 

“[Before Kritik], the students never thought that they could evaluate someone because they’re so used to me evaluating them. I liked the fact that [Kritik] had a strong critical thinking component and the students were able to grade their peers.”  - Francine Guice, See more here.

At Kritik, students' grading power is constantly adapting to reflect their efforts and abilities. Depending on the quality of their evaluations, students grading power will fluctuate throughout the semester as illustrated in the image below: 

This works to serve two purposes, 

  1. It ensures that the student being evaluated receives a fair mark,
  2. It facilitates improved critical thinking abilities of the evaluator. 

In a typical peer assessment setting, a student's full potential is not measured through the strength or development of evaluations, but with Kritik this is an important part of the process. Students evaluations are graded on how motivational and critical they are, and students use this feedback to become a better evaluator. 

Having a consistent structure that students can rely on

Above all else, the most important aspect in ensuring your students remain engaged throughout the course of a semester, is consistency. Students appreciate getting into a routine where they know what is expected of them and are not constantly being surprised with new methods of teaching and changing expectations. We believe that students truly begin to thrive only once they are comfortable inside the classroom, which is why at Kritik, consistency is paramount to everything that we do. Things like consistent anonymity, a detailed rubric, and clearly defined objectives on every assignment truly equip students with the tools necessary to be successful. 

“Kritik has this level of anonymity so they don’t know who they’re evaluating which we like because it removes that assessment bias and it makes them more comfortable.” - Dr. Michael Jones See more here. 

This holistic approach focuses less on only the original submission, and more on the process of constant refinement and improvement which keeps students active from start to finish. Ensuring that all aspects of the peer assessment count towards the students grade will keep them motivated to do well and get good marks in the course. The ability to track your progress and monitor your improvement throughout the semester, coupled with a consistent format that students know they can trust, will yield the best results in terms of engaging and motivating students who tend to be inactive. 


Ashenafi, M. M. (2015, October 19). Peer-Assessment in Higher Education – Twenty-first century practices, challenges and the way forward. Taylor &; Francis.

Northey, G., Bucic, T., Chylinski, M., & Govind, R. (2015, June 4). Increasing student engagement using asynchronous learning

Liu, J., Guo, X., Gao, R., Fram, P., Zhang, H., Wang, J. (2018, December 29). Students’ learning outcomes and peer rating accuracy in compulsory and voluntary online peer assessment. Taylor &; Francis.

Hwang, G. J., Hung, C. M., Chen, N. S. (2013, November 6) Improving learning achievements, motivations and problem-solving skills through a peer assessment-based game development approach.

Sinclair, P. M., Levett-Jones, T., Morris, A., Carter, B., Bennett, P. N., Kable, A. (2017, March 19) High engagement, high quality- A guiding framework for developing empirically informed asynchronous e-learning programs for health professional educators.

Patton, C. ‘Some kind of weird, evil experiment’- student perceptions of peer assessment. (2011, April 26) Taylor &; Francis.

Kumar, R., Rafaei, B. Small Changes to Promote DEI in College Classrooms. (2022, February 9)

Dirk Holtshousen
Education Researcher