Design and manage peer assessments

Peer assessment

As with any assessment activity, careful planning of peer assessment is crucial. Different contexts will mean different decisions need to be made about the assessment process, the criteria, the types of feedback that students will give their peers, and how to manage expectations.

Some things to consider are:

  • Is the purpose peer feedback (non assessed) or peer assessment?
  • Will students be giving feedback, grades or both?
  • Will students be receiving feedback, grades or both?
  • Will there be an educator component to the feedback, grades or both?
  • Will students be evaluating each other or their artefacts/tasks or both?
  • What criteria will students and educators be using?
  • What is being measured or valued through the assessment criteria?
  • How will the review processes be facilitated?
  • Will students be working in teams or pairs?
  • How will the groups be constructed?
  • How will feedback be used? What opportunities are there for reflection and action?
  • What training and guidelines will the students be given about providing feedback/grades?

Designing and planning peer assessment activities

Peer feedback and assessment activities need to be structured to engage students in conversations about the process from the very start. Students should understand that learning to do, and undertake, peer feedback activities can initially be challenging, but that they will be provided with training and support throughout the process.

Planning and designing peer assessment

Decide on suitability: Consider the purpose of the peer activity, and why you would be asking students to grade one another. Some tasks are more suitable for peer feedback than others, so peer feedback might be just one technique in a suite designed to involve students in assessment.

Ensure quality reviews: Implement strategies to build cohesion within the group and identify and address poor quality reviews. For example, two peer assessments might be better than just one, or peer reviews could also be combined with that of the educator (Nicol, Thomson & Breslin, 2014).

Decide on quantity: Multiple peer assessments can provide a faster, higher quantity and variety of feedback, so students may be more likely to receive the feedback they need. Multiple peer assessments can also help students adapt to receiving different perspectives on their work, and being one of multiple perspectives on others’ (Nicol, Thomson & Breslin, 2014).

Manage perceptions: Students can often be reluctant to receive feedback from peers as they may perceive that their peers are “not qualified to provide insightful feedback” (Liu & Carless, 2006, p. 285). At the same time, some students may react more favourably to feedback from their peers.

Consider unintended consequences: There are power imbalances in the process of giving feedback and marking assessment, and some students may feel reluctant or resistant about taking on this role in relation to their peers. This can result in ‘friendship marking’ (over-marking peers to maintain or reinforce friendships) or ‘decibel marking’ (the loudest or most dominant getting the highest marks) (Liu & Carless, 2006).

Partner with students in assessment design: One way to engage students in discussions about assessing and reviewing their peers is through student partnership in the development of assessment - “students may be better able to make sound judgements if they have been involved in the generation of the criteria” (Liu & Carless, 2016, p. 287).  Students could be involved in developing the process, criteria, or feedback style of the assessment tasks, helping them “become better aware of the standards required” (Liu & Carless, 2016 p. 288).

Offer exemplars: Providing de-identified, high standard exemplars (such as specifically-created assignments, or former student assignments) can provide effective models for students (Liu & Carless, 2016).

Include student self-assessment: Nicol, Thomson & Breslin (2014, p. 117) report that producing self reviews “acted as the driver for the students’ backward reflection on their own work”. Using self-review as an element of peer assessment can maximise opportunities for self-reflection and responding to peer feedback.

Be clear about purpose: Clear and open communication about peer feedback in assessment activities is crucial so that students can accept the reasons - engaging in peer feedback carries a lot of potential risk.

Train students: Students should be well prepared for giving peer feedback - don’t assume they have done this before, or feel confident even if they have. Students should be advised that feedback quality varies, be trained how to rate peers with constructive feedback, and how to critically evaluate and incorporate feedback received. Teachers should encourage and support students to play the role of both assessor and assessee (Li, Liu & Zhou, 2012).

Follow-up at the end: Students should be provided the opportunity to connect and analyse the process of peer assessment and assessment. After the assessment activities are completed, bring students together to ask questions of you and each other, discuss it with their cohort, and connect it to prior learning and the intended outcomes of the unit (Nicol, Thomson & Breslin, 2014).