Wondering how to use peer feedback and assessment as an activating teaching method in your programme component? Discover the benefits, explore potential pitfalls and get practical tips and pointers so you can get started right away.

Peer feedback and assessment

Peer feedback is a method in which students, based on predetermined criteria, provide feedback on each other's work and/or behaviour. Here, the focus is on how the mutual dialogue between feedback giver and receiver can contribute to the learning process of both. This is different to peer assessment, where students evaluate each other's work and/or behaviour. The focus in this case is on providing an assessment (Liu & Carless, 2006).

When students have to review or assess the work/behaviour of peers, this constitutes an active form of learning. Namely, they have to deal with a realistic problem: 'How can I effectively assess this person's work/behaviour and what suggestions for improvement can I give?' (Alqassab et al., 2017).

Advantages and pitfalls

The main benefits of peer feedback and assessment are (see also ECHO teaching tip 'Peer reviewing written assignments', 2022):

  • Actively engaging with the evaluation criteria provides a better understanding of the expected quality, which can also have a positive effect on one's own performance of the task/behaviour (Nicol et al., 2014).
  • Peer feedback is often better understood than feedback from a teacher/expert (Vanhoof & Speltincx, 2021).
  • Providing peer feedback and assessment stimulates students' critical thinking (Lerchenfeldt, Mi, & Eng, 2019).
  • Being able to constructively give critical feedback and effectively assess others' work/behaviour are important skills in a professional context (Lerchenfeldt et al., 2019; van Zundert et al., 2010).
  • Through peer feedback or assessment, you as a teacher can gain a better understanding of your students' collaboration and communication skills and individual contributions to group work (Lerchenfeldt et al., 2019; van Zundert et al., 2010).

Despite the benefits of peer feedback and assessment, there are also potential pitfalls (see also ECHO teaching tip 'Peer reviewing written assignments', 2022):

  • Students tend to give socially acceptable answers (Vanhoof & Speltincx, 2021).
  • Students are often not motivated to give feedback or assess their peers: they consider that a task for the teacher (Vanhoof & Speltincx, 2021).
  • Students may lack content knowledge and/or not know how to provide good feedback or assessments (Lerchenfeldt et al., 2019).
  • When the process of peer feedback or assessment is not properly implemented (e.g. insufficient understanding of criteria, insufficient training in giving feedback, straightaway asking for peer assessment without experience of peer feedback), this can lead to an unsafe learning environment for students (Lerchenfeldt et al., 2019; Panadero & Alqassab, 2019).

In what follows, we give some guidelines on how to avoid these pitfalls.

Tips and pointers

Make sure students have a good understanding of the task content and evaluation criteria.

Before giving feedback or an assessment, it is important for the student to work on the relevant learning content themselves, as this will lead to a more critical examination of the other person's work/behaviour. Having become familiar enough with the competence central to the task is therefore a prerequisite for peer feedback and assessment to be used effectively as an activating method (Winstone & Carless, 2019). Furthermore, students need to understand the predetermined evaluation criteria of the assignment they have to review (see also the section on ‘feed up’ in the ECHO education tip 'Feedback matters! High quality feedback', 2022). Therefore, clearly explain the task and emphasise what evaluation criteria students should rely on for their feedback or assessment (Lam, 2010).

Make sure students know how to give quality feedback or assessments.

This is certainly no easy task (Lerchenfeldt et, 2019). Check whether students have been taught this skill earlier in the course. A simple, short repetition on quality feedback (including both positive and working points, focusing on criteria and suggestions for improvement) or assessments (including objective, criteria-based and substantiated) may then suffice. If your students have no prior knowledge of this, there are a number of options to support them. For example, you can go over some good and bad practices of the task in question with your students, indicating why you categorise them as 'good' or 'bad'. Another option is to ask students during class to each briefly formulate feedback on the same small task; compare and then discuss their suggestions. Of course, as a teacher, you should also be a 'model figure' in giving feedback to your students (Winstone & Carless, 2019).

Students are best held accountable for the peer feedback or assessment they give.

There are a number of ways to do this, such as: (1) as a teacher, review the feedback or assessments given, (2) have those who receive feedback indicate how helpful the feedback was, and (3) organise peer feedback or assessment as a dialogue (see below) (Panadero & Alqassab, 2019).

Organise peer feedback as a dialogue.

Interacting with each other via peer feedback has two main advantages according to Zhu & Carless (2018), namely: (1) the feedback giver receives a response ('feedback') to their feedback and (2) the feedback receiver can be helped to sort out any issues with their task. Peer feedback as dialogue thus enables the exchange of views and the negotiation of meanings, which has a positive effect on the learning outcomes of the feedback receiver (in terms of task content) and the feedback giver (in terms of feedback skill).

As teacher, determine the pairs or groups.

When students who are friends rate each other's work/behaviour, positive scores or socially acceptable answers appear to be given more often. In other words, friendship can negatively affect the reliability and validity of the assessment (Rotsaert et al., 2017). Therefore, as teacher, it is best to put together your own pairs or groups for the peer feedback or assessment process. Groups of at least three students are preferred. That way, students get more feedback, can compare the feedback obtained and come across more varied input.

Anonymity within a peer feedback or assessment process is a concern.

Based on a review by Panadero and Alqassab (2019) on the effect of anonymity within peer feedback and assessment processes, no clear statements can be made about the effect of anonymity on performance, peer feedback content and social effects. Good teacher support and appropriate tools (including clear criteria, training in giving feedback or assessments, understanding of the task to be reviewed) seem to have a greater positive impact on quality and attitudes towards peer feedback and assessment than anonymising the process, making  anonymity unnecessary.

With a student group, engage in peer feedback first, then peer assessment.

This way, students can first gain experience in reviewing each other's work/behaviour without the high stakes of an assessment. They can therefore practise the necessary skills that will enable them to give a better assessment in a later peer assessment process and also be more confident in the assessment they receive from their peers (Vanhoof & Speltincx, 2021).

Communicate goals clearly in advance, along with expectations and how the process will work.

Start by explaining why you are introducing peer feedback or assessment and what students can learn from it, motivating students in doing so. Then explain what you expect from students and when. A good timeline, which everyone sticks to, is important. Be sure that this timeline allows students have sufficient time to provide feedback or assessments to their peers. Also discuss the course of the entire process so that students know exactly what steps will be followed. Consider here, among other things, issues such as (1) is peer feedback first reviewed by a teacher, (2) the weighting for peer assessment when determining individual points for group work, (3) are students also assessed on the quality of their peer feedback or assessment given?

Each peer feedback or assessment process will look different, depending on the work/behaviour to be reviewed, the students' experience (with the task and with peer feedback/assessment) and the characteristics of the student group. Don't let this stop you from going with it and experimenting!

Want to know more?

 ECHO teaching tips:

ECHO session:

Alqassab, M., Strijbos, J. W., & Ufer, S. (2017). Training peer-feedback skills on geometric construction tasks: role of domain knowledge and peer-feedback levels. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 33(1), 11–30. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-017-0342-0

Lam, R. (2010). A Peer Review Training Workshop: Coaching Students to Give and Evaluate Peer Feedback. TESL Canada Journal, 27(2), 114. https://doi.org/10.18806/tesl.v27i2.1052

 Lerchenfeldt, S., Mi, M., & Eng, M. (2019). The utilization of peer feedback during collaborative learning in undergraduate medical education: A systematic review. BMC Medical Education, 19, 321. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-019-1755-z

Liu, N. F., & Carless, D. (2006). Peer feedback: the learning element of peer assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(3), 279–290. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562510600680582

Nicol, D., Thomson, A., & Breslin, C. (2014). Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(1), 102-122.

Panadero, E., & Alqassab, M. (2019). An empirical review of anonymity effects in peer assessment, peer feedback, peer review, peer evaluation and peer grading. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(8), 1253-1278. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2019.1600186

Rotsaert, T., Panadero, E., Estrada, E., & Schellens, T. (2017). How do students perceive the educational value of peer assessment in relation to its social nature? A survey study in Flanders. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 53, 29–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stueduc.2017.02.003

 Vanhoof, S., & Speltincx, G. (2021). (In Dutch) Feedback in de klas. Verborgen leerkansen. LannooCampus.

Winstone, N., & Carless, D. (2019). Designing Effective Feedback Processes in Higher Education: A Learning-Focused Approach (Research into Higher Education) (1ste editie). Routledge.

Zhu, Q., & Carless, D. (2018). Dialogue within peer feedback processes: clarification and negotiation of meaning. Higher Education Research & Development, 37(4), 883–897. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2018.1446417

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