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Varied approaches to implementing peer assessment


A number of colleagues at McGill have been thinking about how peer assessment (PA) can be integrated in courses and have generously shared some of their reflections on the topic.

Dr. Maria Orjuela-Laverde is an Academic Associate at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) who works on the Faculty of Engineering’s eLATE (enhancing Learning And Teaching in Engineering) initiative. In a conversation about her experience supporting instructors with their implementation of PA, she shares how varied PA assignments can be, describes her collaborations with instructors, reflects on peer assessment of teamwork, and provides advice for instructors thinking about trying PA in their courses.

How did interest in Peer Assessment (PA) in the Faculty of Engineering come about? Maria-Photo

It started with FACC 100, an Engineering course where PA had been happening for a while. The instructors thought the experience was important for students and thought it should be incorporated into other courses. As well, instructors mentioned that in the limited time available, they really wanted to do certain types of activities—including those that involve giving students feedback on their work—but from a logistics point of view, this was difficult given the number of students in the course. So while concerns about time for giving feedback inspired some instructors to consider PA, PA ended up growing into a meaningful teaching and learning strategy. Now, several instructors in Engineering have their students do PA assignments.

Can you share some examples of the PA assignments instructors have developed?

Sure! In a first-year course, students peer assess one another’s short essays. In another course, PA is used for student group presentations, and in yet another course, an instructor has tried using PA for lab reports.

Also, two instructors have had their students do PA with formula-based and coding assignments. An instructor who is using PA in a computer engineering and computer science course wants students to see that there can be different ways of getting to the same answer. Reading peers’ work helps students come to understand how their peers may have approached the same assignment in different ways.

How do you work with the instructors who are exploring PA?

There are a few ways:

  • I try to have instructors who have already implemented PA talk with those who are starting to explore PA because I think that kind of information sharing is meaningful: instructors are the ones who go through the experience of developing the assignment and of getting students’ feedback.
  • We have one-on-one discussions where we think about how PA could be used in class.
  • We offer brown bag lunch discussions where colleagues can share their teaching experience with one another, either within the Faculty of Engineering or as interdisciplinary events.
  • We present at conferences. For example, we had a presentation at the SALTISE Conference on PA, where I co-presented with instructors from Engineering, Medicine and Science, and ÉTS. It was interesting because the instructors all had different approaches to PA; the tasks were completely different. But we were able to show a table (see below) where they compared the assignment goals and then discussed how they used different software tools that facilitate PA.

Presentation-Table

Thanks to that presentation, some CEGEP instructors have started using the PA strategies and software, and they’ve been in contact with me and with the instructors about implementing PA.

TLS is interested in learning about cases where students assess their peers’ contributions to teamwork. Do you know if this strategy is used by instructors in Engineering?

Yes, quite a few instructors in Engineering have their students assess how they work together as a team. It’s a popular strategy because it makes students accountable for their work. In classes of 200 students, instructors were receiving emails along the lines of, “This student’s doing nothing!” So we started introducing PA of teamwork. Complaints began to decrease because students realized, “You know what…I can give him a low mark if he’s not responding to emails, if he’s not submitting his work on time.” So, that’s a strategy that both instructors and students appreciate. There’s a rubric (see below) that several instructors have been using for this purpose. It includes criteria such as respect and problem solving skills. It’s set up as a table, and the first column has the various criteria, such as “the person listened to others’ ideas;” “the person used good problem solving strategies” and so on. There’s a self-assessment column where each student assesses him- or herself according to these criteria. And then the students assess their teammates in the next columns, according to the same criteria.

Teamwork-Rubric Usually students are honest in their assessments, and on those occasions when students’ marks for themselves are very different from the marks their peers have given them, the instructor can see that and adjust the grade if deemed appropriate.

What would you suggest to instructors who are thinking about trying PA with their students?

I have four suggestions:

First, ask yourself, “What’s the actual goal of the activity? Why do I want students to do PA?” Explaining your rationale clearly to students can help them to understand why you are asking them to do PA, for instance, to develop their ability to give and receive constructive feedback. When students graduate and move on to careers in academia or industry, if they have a peer-reviewed paper or project, they have to be able to receive feedback. If the instructor doesn’t explain the goal of the PA assignment, some students may wonder, “Why would a peer be giving me feedback when we have exactly the same knowledge?”

Second, recognize that some assignments are appropriate for PA and some may not be. Some assignments might need to be adapted first. For instance, if an assignment is too long, students might be overwhelmed. So, you can shorten it.

Third, think about how you will do PA, and what software you might use (if appropriate). What support might you need to implement the assignment? I remind instructors that TLS offers consultations on many aspects of teaching, including developing assignments and using software to support PA.

Fourth, talk to your colleagues. Connect with other people to talk about how they have been using PA in their classes. I can give the whole theory and rationale for why PA can be useful, but the instructors are the ones who are actually doing it. Also, when instructors are in the same discipline, among themselves they can say, “How about trying XYZ?” Their background knowledge of the discipline impacts the questions they ask, and how they phrase suggestions, which can make a difference in how meaningful questions and implementation suggestions are to their colleagues. That way they learn about what their colleagues are trying in their teaching. The networking is really important.

Join the conversation! What PA assignment(s) have you asked your students to do? What suggestions about implementing PA would you like to share with other instructors?

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