There is no doubt that getting students to provide feedback on each others work can be a very valuable activity, helping them understand assessment criteria, develop their critical thinking and ability to appraise their own work. The JISC-funded PEER project (2010-11, led by Professor David Nichol) provides a neat summary of the educational benefits and key research findings as well as some designs.

Note that we are mainly concerned with peer review (providing feedback) rather than peer assessment (grading) of student work. Peer assessment can be problematic, with issues around bias, competency and responsibility. Students don’t like it and academics are naturally wary. Peer review neatly sidesteps these problems, but there is still the challenge of motivating students to engage in the activity. The Turnitin PeerMark system offers a very neat solution, as it enables the tutor to award a grade for the quality of the feedback a student has provided their peers.

Another aspect of peer review centres on student engagement with and contribution to group work. Students resent ‘freeloaders’ getting the same mark as those who actually did the work, so a means of identifying them is useful. However, it would be better if students were provided with formative peer feedback on their performance earlier in the process, so they have an opportunity to modify their behaviour if necessary. In addition, peer feedback could be used to quantify the overall contribution of each student and individualise their grades, for example giving exceptional students a higher grade. In practice, it makes sense to modify only a proportion of the overall group grade to avoid excessive differences. This year we are piloting the TEAMMATES system developed by the National University of Singapore, which enables sophisticated peer review of group work.

I’ve written a document which briefly describes and compares the capabilities of the three peer review systems available at Aston; Blackboard Peer and Self Assessment, Turnitin PeerMark and TEAMMATES: Peer Assessment Tools (Aston)

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