What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about peer reviews? Ponder for a moment and write down a few thoughts before you proceed.
Did you think about peer reviews as a tool for students to assess the work of their peers, or a way to evaluate peer contributions towards group projects? If these were your initial thoughts, you are not alone. When I started my teaching career decades ago, I mostly thought of peer reviews in similar ways. I predominately used peer reviews as an assessment tool and limited its usage, mostly for collaborative projects.
Many years later as I got increasingly interested in this subject and delved into literature, I started to realize the limited ways I had used peer reviews in my courses. As highlighted in literature, peer review is more than an assessment tool. It is a pedagogical approach to teaching and learning, that builds students skills both in giving and receiving feedback, critically reviewing theirs, and other’s work. Peer review is centered on the social constructivist approach towards learning, that explains knowledge creation as an outcome of a collective process. In this type of an environment, students learn by sharing their ideas with each other, collectively improving theirs and other’s work iteratively. Peer reviews also allows active and authentic learning opportunities, tapping into years of student experiences. When designing and facilitating peer review-based learning and assessment activities, the role of the instructor is to create an environment for students to collectively co-create and evaluate knowledge.
While it has benefits and pedagogical value, peer reviews can be challenging to design, evaluate and facilitate. I am sure you may have experienced concerns related to, conflicts amongst students post peer feedback and grades, students questioning their ability and authority to grade peers, poor quality and timeliness concerns of feedback, issues pertaining to anonymity, and sensitivities related to confidentiality in sharing client-based information, to name a few. While these concerns are legitimate, don’t let them scare you away, we can resolve them with good design and facilitation methods.
Now that we have some context on this topic, lets focus on why peer reviews are important.
THE VALUE PROPOSITION
The benefits of peer review for both students, and faculty are well documented in literature.
When engaging in peer reviews, students learn to give and receive, objective and critical feedback, which is an essential 21st century skill. This allows them to refine their product, cross fertilize ideas, engage in an iterative design process which enhances learning, and the overall quality of work submitted by the entire class. Feedback students give and receive when engaging in teamwork, increases the quality of their contributions, accelerates the team development process during collaborative projects. The interactions students make with each other during this process, further augments their verbal and written communication, emotional intelligence, and collaborative skills. A well-developed peer review process also reduces social loafing, which is cited in literature as the number one reason for student dissatisfaction with teamwork. Peer review also provides an opportunity for students to engage in authentic assessments, seeing themselves as active participants, taking charge of their own learning.
Benefits for faculty are also evident. Peer reviews can add value and lighten the marking load of faculty, allowing the allocation of time, productively for areas students need most support. The cross-fertilized ideas that are generated through peer reviews, improves the overall course outcomes and quality of work submitted. The satisfaction one gains seeing students developing into confident, capable learners, is a feeling that many instructors value. An instructor who follows a social constructive view towards teaching and learning, peer reviews remain a powerful approach in their tool kit.
The value peer reviews provide as a learning and an assessment tool for both students and instructors are undeniable.
ESSENTIALS OF PEER REVIEWS
Having understood peer reviews as a pedagogical approach to teaching and learning and its value proposition, in this section, I wish to briefly discuss the design, assessment and the facilitation of peer reviews.
A & B) Design and Assessment of Peer Review Activities
When designing a peer review activity, it could be targeted towards a) the product of individual and teamwork, and/or b) the process of collaborative work. Examples of products are project reports, presentations, portfolios, media-based productions etc. The process of peer reviews refers to the quality, timeliness of feedback, individual contributions to team projects etc.
Further, when assessing peer review activities, it can be targeted to elicit a) feedback only on the product or process and/or b) provide an assessment of the product or process.
The matrix below will highlight an intersection of the above design combinations of product vs. process and feedback vs. assessments.
Combinations of Peer Review of the Product
There are circumstances where an instructor would design a peer review activity of a product, requiring students to give and receive feedback only. Let’s label this as “Peer Feedback”. Creating a peer review activity for assessment only without feedback is meaningless. Thus, the combined version with both feedback and assessment is labeled as “Peer Assessments”. These labelling although not directly defined this way, do resonate with definitions found in literature.
Most peer review activities of products are useful to be carried out as formative assessments, where students get the opportunity to use the feedback provided to improve their product iteratively.
Combinations of Peer Review of the Process
As for peer contribution to the process, eliciting feedback only without an assessment, or an assessment without feedback is very uncommon. The usual practice is to allow students to provide both feedback and an assessment of their peer’s contribution to the process. This is labeled as “Peer Contribution Evaluation”. The assessment portion of the contribution evaluation will provide an incentive for peers to contribute towards projects intentionally.
Peer review of the process is mostly a summative activity. However, in team environments, getting students to complete frequent peer contribution evaluations formatively, can improve the overall team performance throughout the course.
- PEER FEEDBACK refers to an activity designed to give and receive peer feedback only for a product.
- PEER ASSESSMENT refers to an activity designed to give and receive peer feedback with an assessment of the product.
- PEER CONTRIBUTION EVALUATION refers to an activity designed to provide both feedback and an assessment of their peer’s contribution to the process.
C) Facilitate Peer Review Activities and Assessments.
When assigning peer review-based activities, students often ask whether they are qualified to provide feedback and evaluate the work of their peers. The short answer is yes. However, this process does not happen naturally. An instructor is required to facilitate this process for effective results.
First, explain to your students the purpose and benefits of peer reviews. Convince students that they bring years of experience to the classroom, and more heads are better than one. Explain when engaging in decision making in the real world, one is required to both receive and provide feedback to others that they work with. Practicing this in a non-threatening environment would help them ease into being workplace ready, which is a goal of the KPU academic plan.
Second, direct students through the process. Provide guiding questions, prompts to think through to evaluate the product and the process elements of peer’s product and contributions. Provide grading rubrics to assess their colleagues’ work. Also provide grading rubrics with criteria, to highlight how students will be evaluated for completing peer review tasks.
You may wonder what supports and resources are available to faculty to design, assess, and facilitate peer review activities. In the last section of this blog, resources that will be created at a future date will be further discussed.
TOOLS FOR PEER REVIEWS
There is a plethora of tools available to develop peer reviews. Click here for a brief snapshot of these tools.
As you select these tools, consider whether you want to administer peer reviews anonymously or not. Many studies highlight benefits of carrying out anonymous reviews. Anonymity removes biasness and pressures students face when carrying out open reviews. If you are using a tech enabled tool, consider the amount of time available to invest in learning to use the tool. Think about your student body, consider using ways to simplify the process, minimize inconvenience and maximize participation. In the last section of this blog, future resources that will be created to assist the use and adoption of these tools will be further discussed.
FUTURE RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES
The Teaching and Learning Commons is currently developing a self-paced, module-based, online asynchronous course, to support faculty with many of the topics discussed in this blog. This resource is planned to be released by end of November 2021, followed by a synchronous workshop in the Spring of 2022 to further support the design, assessment, and facilitations of peer review activities.
|SELF-PACED ASYNCHRONOUS ONLINE COURSE|
|SYNCHRONOUS WORKSHOP ON PEER REVIEW|
Participants who complete the self-paced asynchronous online course will have the option to register for a synchronous session, to discuss and receive feedback on the design, assessment, and facilitation of peer review process, by their peers and the course facilitator. Stay tuned.