In cooperation with Prof. Cedric Vuye (Faculty of Applied Engineering)

In an educational context, according to Pearce et al. (2009), peer review is ‘the educational approach whereby students assess the quality of their fellow students’ work and give feedback on it’.  In this Teaching tip, we will use the term ‘peer review’ to refer to the process of students providing one another’s work with both feedback and assessment. 

To peer review or not to peer review?

Peer reviewing can have advantages for both the students and the lecturer: 

  • Students can get faster, more detailed, and sometimes more understandable feedback.
  • Receiving feedback but also giving it significantly improves the quality of the writing assignment.
  • Writing a review encourages critical thinking, the application of assessment criteria, and reflection on one’s own work after having observed a fellow student’s work.
  • For the lecturer, the main motivation is how much time can be gained by not having to read and comment on every single text. 
  • The quality of the texts the lecturer receives tend to be higher. 

Of course, there are also some drawbacks and pitfalls:

  • Feedback from a peer is often more extensive, clearer and more motivating, but it is not always correct. Students can therefore experience the peer review as being of lower quality or reliability than that of the lecturer.
  • The feedback received is sometimes not specific or constructive enough.
  • Students do not always feel confident or experienced enough to carry out the review.

These drawbacks and pitfalls can be overcome with a qualitatively developed peer review process.

Designing the peer review process

Below are some recommendations that Topping (2009) believes are essential when designing a peer review.

1. Work in groups

Discuss the objectives, the concept and the process with your colleagues involved in the programme component and with educational support workers. They can lighten the initial workload and optimise the peer review process based on their own expertise.

2. Create support

Involve all stakeholders, and especially the students, from an early stage. Clarify the assessment criteria, the potential benefits and possible challenges they may encounter (Carless & Boud, 2018). This gives them a sense of ownership and eliminates fear of or reluctance to implement a new feedback and/or assessment system.

3. Peer matching

In some cases (e.g. language teaching) it is necessary to split up the students based on their previously tested level. It is best for students of the same level to be paired with each other. Students with a lower starting level can then be monitored more closely by the lecturer.

4. Provide training

State the goal and explain what is expected of the students. Discuss assessment and/or feedback processes and strategies instead of focusing on the details of a specific assignment (Carless & Boud, 2018). Give examples of good feedback and poor feedback – either made up or from previous years – or provide a fully commented and assessed example assignment. This can be seen as a form of ‘feed up’, where you clearly indicate to the students in advance what they should work towards.

5. Provide clear guidelines

Provide the necessary documents, such as templates (both for the written assignment and for the assessment), clear assessment criteria (for instance, see Andrade, 2005, or Van den Berg et al., 2014), and instructions (preferably including an overview of the steps to be followed). Rubrics (see Teaching Tip 'Rubrics as a guidance and assessment tool' (2017)) and Comproved (see Teaching Tip 'Comproved: Why make assessing difficult when it can be easy? (2021)) can be helpfull tools. 

6. Set deadlines

Be clear about the timing and ensure that deadlines are respected. Be sure to monitor this process at regular intervals (e.g. every week). Provide a summary document containing all deadlines and state the consequences of not meeting these deadlines (e.g. a mark deduction).

7. Monitor and coach

Especially at the beginning, it is important to do spot checks to ensure the form and quality of the feedback and/or the assessment. Intervene when the feedback is too vague or negative. You might even consider scheduling an extra session after the first round of the peer review process to discuss the feedback given.

8. Check

Continue to monitor the quality, validity and reliability of the peer review. This can be built into the process either by reviewing an assignment yourself and providing feedback on it when you notice that the differences between reviews are too great, or by regularly reviewing a few random assignments yourself to compare the marks obtained.

9. Give feedback on the feedback

It is very useful to give feedback on the feedback provided. Only then will students get better at giving feedback. You can either do this yourself, or ask the students how meaningful, clear and useful the feedback was to them. This process, also called ‘backward evaluation’, is strongly recommended to increase student engagement (Misiejuk et al., 2021).

Do you want to know more about how you can develop such a peer review within your courses? Then read the full Teaching tip below!