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Case study 2 – Using peer review to provide feedback on draft assignments

Part of the Handbook chapter on Assessment and Feedback


This activity is used in the skills module outlined in the first detailed case study. Having completed the exemplar marking activity, the students have to write a 1000-word essay on an economist of their choice as part of the summative assessment. They are told that the essay must include an introduction, conclusion and some personal information about the economist. However it is stressed that the main part of the essay should include a detailed discussion and assessment of the economist’s contribution to the development of the subject. The innovative part of the assessment is the peer review process which is outlined below.

The activity

  • Two weeks before the essay deadline students are instructed to bring a 1000-word draft version of the final copy of their assignments to a workshop. This draft version must have the student’s ID clearly written at the top of the paper but the student’s name must not be visible on the assignment to ensure anonymous marking.
  • It is clearly stated in the assignment guidelines that if the student does not bring a copy of their work that they will be unable to take part in the peer review process. This has implications if the peer review and feedback is part of the summative assessment.
  • The workshop tutor collects the draft essays from the students as they enter the classroom and then randomly redistributes them.
  • Each student is given 35–40 minutes to peer mark the piece of work they have been given. In order to guide them through the process they are given a feedback template which is a simplified version of the assessment criteria. The template has a number of headings with space left below each one so that the students are able to write a number of comments. They are told to write a minimum of three comments under each of the following headings:
    • Introduction – Is there an introduction or does the essay launch straight into the main body of the essay? If an introduction is included to what extent does it outline how the question/topic will be answered?
    • Organisation – Has the material in the essay been structured into paragraphs in a way which allows for a logical development of ideas and arguments? Does it ‘flow’ or is it difficult to follow?
    • Relevance – To what extent is the material provided relevant and applied to the question/topic?
    • Depth of analysis – Have all arguments/points been fully developed? Has the author adopted a critical stance or is it purely descriptive?
    • Language and grammar – Is it written in an appropriate academic style? Is the meaning always clear or is it sometimes difficult to follow? Are the grammar, spelling and punctuation correct?
  • The tutor moves around the room making sure that the students are engaging with the activity and answering any questions. Most of the questions will be about the ‘depth of analysis’ criteria.
  • At the end of the session the tutor collects the assignments with the peer feedback sheets and immediately staples them together. The tutor then simply calls out the ID of the student and they collect their work with the stapled peer feedback.
  • When the students submit the final copy of their coursework they have to explain how they used the peer feedback in order to amend/improve the final version. If they chose to ignore the peer feedback provided they must explain why.

Some reservations about the use of peer review

Concerns about the use of peer review have been expressed by both tutors and students.

Concerns expressed by tutors – will the students take the process seriously?

A major issue with this type of activity is getting all the students to engage with the process in a meaningful way. Some initial attempts were made in the skills module to assess the quality of the feedback provided, i.e. by grading it and making it worth 10% of the final mark. However this proved difficult for a number of reasons. Deciding on criteria by which the feedback would be marked proved to be very problematic. The students were asked to write a minimum of three comments against each point. This resulted in them focusing on the quantity rather than the quality of the feedback. As one participant in the student focus group stated:

‘I wrote things just for the sake of it because it was being assessed.’

The marking added to the lecturers’ workload and delayed the time it took for the students to receive the feedback. Tutors had to collect the sheets at the end of the class and mark them before they could be returned to the student. It was judged by the tutors involved with the delivery of the module that the costs of assessing the feedback had outweighed the benefits.

Concerns expressed by students – the quality of the feedback and plagiarism

There were a number of comments made in the student focus groups about the quality of the feedback provided by their peers and the worry that their work would be copied. Some students admitted that they would even try and game the system. Comments included:

‘I am worried that other students are not qualified enough to mark my work.’

‘I expect to receive feedback from an expert – not a novice.’

‘Because I would not be confident in the quality of the feedback received from other students, I would be less likely to act upon it.’

‘It would just give the lazy students a chance to copy my work.’

‘I would seriously consider leaving out some of the better bits from the version of my coursework that I submitted for peer review so that it could not be copied.’

One potential solution to the problem suggested by the students themselves would be to get the students from the year above to carry out the peer reviewing. It was felt that they would have more experience and expertise and also would not be able to plagiarise or steal good ideas. In addition when asked about their expectations or experience of this type of activity the students tended to focus on the benefits/weaknesses of receiving the feedback. They tended not to think about the potential benefits from the act of reviewing somebody else’s work. Perhaps some of these benefits need to be made clearer. For example the following advantages of peer reviewing could be stressed:

  • It is valuable because it may reveal issues you might want to consider in your own work.
  • It will develop your own critical thinking and help you to become a better writer yourself.
  • It will help you to better understand the assessment criteria used by the tutor to mark your work.

Next section of Handbook chapter: Alternative ways of organising the peer review process

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