Reducing Fear and Anxiety with Peer Assessment

In life, we are taught lessons such as practice makes perfect, and that we learn our greatest lessons from our mistakes. These beliefs are widely considered to be true, however in the academic world they are often not practiced well. The education system puts pressure on students to ‘get it right’ every time, and while knowledge is important, learning is a process and it is important for students to feel comfortable while doing it. 

With the constant pressure of succeeding and meeting deadlines, the fear of failing and being judged can be quite daunting. This fear and anxiety in students can have serious repercussions on their overall confidence that could negatively impact their outlook in life (Graf & Menasce Horowitz, 2019). Learning is not a linear process and includes misconceptions, so by creating an environment where students feel comfortable making mistakes, you create an environment that truly allows them to succeed. One great way to facilitate this environment is through peer assessment, and so in this article we will cover: 

  • 4 reasons why students fear peer assessment 
  • 4 benefits of peer assessment 
  • How to make peer assessment work well in the classroom
  • How peer evaluations can reduce fear and anxiety 

4 Reasons Why Students Fear Peer Assessment

For many students, peer assessment is a new experience. Students grow accustomed to only preparing work for their professor, and only receiving feedback from their professors point of view. When students enter the workforce, giving, receiving, and interacting with critical feedback is very common, however when it is initially introduced, students may feel anxiety because of it and it is important to understand why. 

1. Fear of Judgment

Students build up anxiety around peer assessment because they fear being judged by their classmates. Students are often self conscious about the work they create, and criticism from other like-minded peers can feel daunting. Students fear that their work may not be good enough and their peers will judge them negatively as a result. On the flip side, students may also be hesitant to give poor marks in fear that they will be disapproved of. Part of getting over this involves encouraging students and reminding them the importance of learning from others and how their opinions are not negative criticisms. 

2. Devaluing peers’ feedback

Another reason that students may fear peer assessment is because they don’t believe their peers are qualified to provide them with good quality feedback. This causes students to have anxiety around whether they are receiving a fair grade on their work. While professors may be more qualified to accurately determine a numerical grade, the written feedback that comes from a diverse group of peers is very valuable for resolving ambiguity in writing and teaching students to appeal to a wider audience. 

3. Too many opinions may convolute their understanding of the topic

Traditional education methods cause students to become accustomed to only receiving feedback from one viewpoint, being their professor. As a result, students begin to believe that their professor's opinion is the only one that is right. Students may fear peer assessment because it forces them to consider various different opinions which can be overwhelming. However, in reality, hearing these different opinions only expands their minds and helps their critical thinking abilities. 

4. Language and cultural barriers 

Another common reason that students fear peer assessment methods is the belief that language and cultural barriers will get in the way. Students become anxious as they wonder whether or not their work will be perceived the way they intend, by someone who does not speak the same first language. While this is a logical fear, learning how to write in a universal tone that is not ambiguous is a necessary skill to learn when preparing to enter the workforce. 

4 Benefits of Peer Assessment

While all of the fears mentioned in the previous section are valid, they are easy to overcome. This is because the benefits of peer assessment are quickly realized by students, causing the process to get exponentially better with each peer assessment activity. 

1. Students learning improves by assessing their peer’s work

Peer Assessment enables students to learn by becoming evaluators. By analyzing the work of others through a more critical lens, students automatically gain a deeper understanding of the topic. In traditional classrooms, students often forget about the material after they submit their assignment, however peer assessment methods hammer home the material by forcing them to think about it multiple times in different ways. 

2. Opportunity to grow

As students progress through the semester and complete multiple peer assessment activities, they become stronger evaluators every time to the point where they are not only giving great comments, but are also able to determine a fairly accurate grade. With Kritik, students receive feedback on every evaluation they complete to help them understand how critical and motivational it was. Professors can guide students with explicit instructions and descriptive rubric items and help them grow into expert evaluators by the end of the semester. 

3. Learn diverse perspectives 

While some students fear language and cultural barriers in peer assessment, the reality is that they truly open the door for a unique learning opportunity. Every student has their own experience and story to tell, and by giving peers a space to share these opinions, they become exposed to a lot of great ideas they may never have considered. By reading other students' creations, and listening to the peer critiques of their own work, students are able to to think critically and consider multiple perspectives which ultimately allows them to create something much more robust. 

4. Students learn important life skills 

The true importance of peer assessment is that it forces students to step outside of their comfort zone and develop the lifelong skills of giving and receiving critical feedback. This is something that many students and young people in general struggle with, so by introducing it early on, they are more comfortable with the idea of criticism by the time they enter the workforce. Giving feedback in peer assessment ultimately helps students build confidence and become more mature, as they start to see themselves and their peers as professionals. 

Read about some other benefits of peer assessment that can have a positive impact in your courses.

How to Make Peer Assessment Work Well in your Course?

Peer assessment must be implemented effectively in order to ensure students realize the maximum benefits, and there are a few simple tips instructors can follow to achieve this. 

1. Clearly State the Objective of the Assessment with Guiding Questions

When the objective of the assignment is clear to the student they know what is expected of them. A few guiding questions can enable them to think in the right direction, avoid any confusion, and produce better quality work. This will give them more confidence and allow the unique opinions of diverse students to flourish. 

2. Provide Guidelines on What to Look For when Reviewing

Peer assessment provides an excellent opportunity for students to grow into expert evaluators throughout the semester. Of course, students naturally improve over time, but by providing them with explicit guidelines for what reviewers should be looking for, and clearly defining the rubric levels, students will improve at a much faster rate. Teaching students how to be both critical and motivational so their evaluation is both useful and well perceived is important. Helping students learn to review and provide suggestions instead of simply editing their peers' work creates a sense of community amongst students as they all contribute to each other's growth. 

3. Use Peer Assessment more than once in a term

Since peer assessment is a skill that is developed over time, it is important to use it frequently in a semester instead of just once. Every time students complete an assignment, they will improve as evaluators, and at the same time begin to realize more and more benefits of peer assessment. The more comfortable the students become, the more invested they become, and this as a result the ceiling for pedagogical value is raised exponentially. 

How Peer Evaluations can Reduce Fear and Anxiety 

The education system revolves around being right and causes students to believe they must get things perfect in order to succeed. This causes students fear and anxiety. Since students in college or university are still in their prime learning years, it is okay to get things wrong sometimes. Since instructors may not be able to get enough one-on-one time with each student, giving them timely and personalized feedback may not always be possible. Since students learn at their own pace they may want to exchange ideas and opinions with their peers to truly gain an interest and deeper understanding of a topic.   

Peer assessment helps to normalize this, by allowing students to learn and grow together through practice. Everyone has varying expertise in different subjects, and peer assessment allows students to learn from others while teaching their own knowledge. Students can see feedback as something to read and interact with instead of viewing it negatively as someone pointing out mistakes. Instead of viewing their peers' ideas in contrast to theirs, students can now use their peers' ideas to strengthen their own work. This helps instill values of teamwork and collaboration that will be integral to their success in the workforce. 

Starting on the Right Foot

While students may have their reservations about peer assessment initially, it works to negate a lot of the anxiety they experience in a traditional classroom. Instructors should take the time to educate their students on the benefits of peer assessment before introducing it in an assignment. When peer assessment is implemented effectively, students will quickly realize its benefits and the psychological fear fades away. Peer assessment facilitates a positive sense of community in the classroom and instills students with confidence and other life long skills that will help them be successful in life and their profession. 

Schedule a demo with our team today to discover the power of anonymity in peer assessment.

References

Graf, N., & Menasce Horowitz, J. (2019). Most U.S. Teens See Anxiety and Depression as a Major Problem Among Their Peers. Retrieved 24 August 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers/

Dirk Holtshousen
Education Researcher

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