Peer feedback

Peer feedback is simply any method by which a student receives formative feedback on their work from another student or students. It could be verbal, written, or even audio or video feedback. It is a powerful active learning strategy because the student giving the feedback really has to engage with the learning outcomes for the piece of work and evaluate how well the work meets them. This will likely help them return to their own work with a new perspective. The student receiving the feedback must evaluate the comments and seek ways to apply the suggested improvements. It may give them a new perspective or clarify something which they had not previously grasped fully.

In addition, this process gives students practice in the skills of communication and constructive criticism which may be valuable in the workplace.

The outline of the process is as follows:

  1. Introduce the assignment and marking criteria
  2. Explain the peer feedback process and give guidance on providing constructive feedback
  3. Students complete the initial draft of their work
  4. Students give feedback on others’ work
  5. Students revise their own work in light of the feedback and their own insights from evaluating others’ work
  6. Students submit final version

(Adapted from UCL’s Blended and Online Learning course on FutureLearn, 3.2 The Peer Assessment Method).

Things to consider

Anonymity

Think about whether the work should be reviewed anonymously, and whether the reviewer should remain anonymous – at least to other students. Anonymity of the recipient may reduce bias, while anonymity of the reviewer may allow them to feel more comfortable giving useful criticism rather than vague approval. On the other hand, this impersonal approach may result in lack of empathy in feedback and give a feeling of diminished responsibility – it can be good to teach students to ‘own’ their comments. This also allows for follow-up if comments are unclear. In some cases anonymity may simply not be  possible, such as if someone is feeding back on a presentation given in person.

Your choices in this will depend on the group dynamics, the size of your cohort and the practicalities of the assessment.

Be aware that Word and PDF documents can sometimes contain an author name in the metadata which savvy students could use to circumvent anonymity. If you have decided on anonymity, make sure your students know how to remove this. See Microsoft support pages for how to change the properties of a Word file.

Distribution

The simplest way to decide who reviews what is to pair up students randomly and get them to swap their work. As a variant, put them in groups of three and have each review both of the other pieces. This can help reduce the chances of students not getting helpful feedback.

In some situations it may be appropriate to let students browse others’ work and choose where to leave comments, for example a display of posters. In other cases it may be that all students are expected to feed back on all the other work, for example a small class where students take turns to give a presentation.

Assessing contributions

If you want to evaluate how successful your peer feedback activity has been, or if the process of giving feedback is a learning outcome for your course, you will need to think about how to assess it. Will you read all of the feedback comments? Perhaps you can include a reflection as part of the process where students submit their thoughts on how the activity has helped them improve. Contributions  in a discussion board are easy to follow all in one place.

You may need a route by which students can go to you for support if they haven’t received any helpful feedback, or if they have had trouble reviewing their assigned piece.

Tools

Whether the assignment is produced as a Word document, video, presentation, a piece of code or even something done on paper, you will need a way for it be shared with other students and for their feedback to be communicated.

  • Blackboard has an inbuilt system for peer assessment, allowing students to submit a text answer or file upload and then evaluate a set number of other students’ work. You can include evaluation criteria, set date ranges for submission and evaluation, and choose whether it is anonymous. See Blackboard’s help pages on peer assessment for more details.
  • Alternatively, if swapping within pairs or threes, you could set up Blackboard Groups so that students can upload their work to share with their partners.
  • Discussion boards allow students to present work which can then be publicly commented on in the thread. Be sure to set clear expectations (e.g. ‘everyone should post one example and comment on at least 3 others’). You can usually choose what levels of anonymity you allow in the discussion board.
  • Students can share their work from OneDrive and switch on Track Changes so that their reviewer(s) can add comments on the document itself.
  • PebblePad allows students to comment on each other’s work, and you can create specific feedback templates for them to use.
  • Other collaborative tools such as Padlet and Flipgrid are also useful for making students’ work accessible to the whole cohort.

Encouraging engagement

Students may be resistant to this activity at first as they may believe that peer feedback is not as valuable as feedback from a tutor, or that it is wasting their time to review others’ work. It is important to explain the benefits to them of engaging with the process of giving feedback. It is also important to give instructions in how to give good, constructive feedback and make sure it is a safe space where students are not disheartened or upset by unhelpful comments.

Consider creating specific feedback templates for students to provide their comments. It can also be good to get students to tell their reviewer what they would most like feedback on – this gets them to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses even before feedback is provided.

 

Contact fet.liu@uwe.ac.uk if you want to discuss how peer feedback could be used in your module.

 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash