A number of instructors at McGill have been implementing peer assessment (PA) in their courses and have generously shared some of their reflections on the experience.
Professor Grant Clark is one of the coordinators of the Bioresource Engineering graduate seminar in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. In a recent conversation, he shared how he implemented PA in this course of 135 students (approx. 90 graduate students and 45 undergraduate students), reflected on trying new software, and offered advice to other instructors considering implementing PA in their courses.
For what assignment did you implement PA?
Each week of the semester, eight or nine graduate students do individual five-minute oral presentations with PowerPoint or the equivalent. Students have to choose an academic topic to present that is of potential interest to somebody at a university. Since that’s pretty broad, sometimes the topic or the format is more specific, such as saying the presentation cannot be about the student’s thesis topic, or that students should present in a sales pitch format, for example.
At the start of term, I share with students some ideas about how to give a good presentation. In the syllabus or on myCourses, I include links to what I consider to be excellent presentations, as well as links to a document or two about how to give a good scientific presentation.
PA of students’ presentations happens in three stages over the course of the semester:
Stage 1: Outside class time, each graduate student pre-sets the rehearsal timings so the slides advance at a certain pace, practices their presentation in front of a panel of three or four other graduate students, and then the panelists fill out a PA form using Office Forms. The form itself gives suggestions in point form of what to look for when providing feedback. The students video record the presentations and then submit a link to the recordings using this form so that I can look at the presentations and give feedback, too. This way, if one of the panelists isn’t able to be present, they can look at the video and send their feedback, as well. As it is a private link, only the review panelists, the instructor and the presenter can see the practice video. Each student gets feedback from about five people at this stage. The presenting student then has at least a week to make adjustments further to the feedback they’ve received, before presenting to the entire class during Stage 2.
Stage 2: Each graduate student presents in front of the whole class. The undergraduate students are divided into moderating committees of three or four students. Each week, a different moderating committee chairs the presentations during class. Each graduate student presents, and then has three to five minutes to respond to questions. The undergraduate students on that day’s moderating committee evaluate the presentation using a PA form. As well, the same panelists as in Stage 1 fill out a second PA form and describe how well the student presenter improved (or not). Each student gets feedback from nearly 10 people at this stage. The in-class presentations are recorded and links to the recordings are posted on the myCourses website.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post that explains how these presentations are recorded.
Stage 3: The student presenters fill out a PA form after they receive the feedback from their panelists and moderators. On this form, the presenter provides feedback on how useful they found the feedback from their peers. Providing feedback on the feedback that they received (editor’s note: also known as “back-evaluation”) is motivation for peers to provide constructive feedback because there are a few points of their grade attached to that assessment.
Why did you start using Office Forms? What do students think about this software?
Our decision to use Office Forms was in response to past student feedback. Before, we had students in the audience fill out and submit a paper form with their name on it. For the students, it was a bother filling out the paper forms. As an instructor, the paper forms approach was time-consuming as it required collation, scanning and anonymizing.
Students are happy with the switch from paper forms to Office Forms, and creating and using Office Forms is really easy for me! Students access the form via a link I post on myCourses. They sign in with their McGill email and password. Students can fill out the form on their phone or their computer. The nifty thing is that all of that data is then available to download in Excel format. It’s just a matter of copying a column of feedback from Excel – but not copying the column with the submitting students’ names – and pasting it into an email and sending it to the student presenter. So while I know which students submitted which feedback, the student receiving the feedback does not know. The form is also time-stamped so we can make sure that the feedback is submitted on time.
Providing and sharing feedback is so painless and easy now, for the students and for me. In fact, I’ve seen that students tend to write more thorough comments on the electronic forms than they did on the paper forms in previous semesters. The online form works well and saves us loads of time compared to the hard-copy alternative.
To what extent does the students’ assessment of one another impact their grade?
That has changed over the years. The students are asked to give a numerical score and then justify it with text. I used to have a really complicated formula which included the average score assigned by the audience, and then it was weighted by my score, and so forth. Recently, it’s become simpler: now approximately 15% of their final assignment grade is based on the score assigned by the panelists and the audience. So it has a small impact on their grade.
What has a larger impact on their grade is whether they submit the forms on time. To motivate students to submit on time, a grade is attached to each form submission. So if it’s 5% for every form, and the student fills out all four forms, that adds up quickly.
What advice do you have for an instructor interested in trying PA for the first time?
Overall, be very organized. For instance:
- Think the PA assignment through carefully and figure out how you’re going to manage the administrative overhead.
- Make the instructions clear from the outset so you don’t have to change things mid-semester.
- Get feedback from the class when you’re done to see what they liked and didn’t like about the assignment.
Reflection questions for readers:
- How has technology facilitated the implementation of PA in your courses?
- Could you imagine using Office Forms to facilitate PA among your students?