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Improving student experience and learning through peer review feedback

Marisa Graser - Nov 08, 2021

Feedback is one of the lowest rated categories within student experience surveys across the UK (Higher Education Funding Council for England 2011). Students often criticise the unclear, unspecific, or irrelevant content as well as slow return rates. Naturally, the initial response to overcome this problem would be to try and provide more detailed feedback in a timely manner. However, research indicates that these changes have only very little effect on student satisfaction whilst at the same time increasing the workload for teachers (Crisp 2007, Nicol et al. 2014).

Peer review feedback in practice

As a more effective way to improve feedback in Higher Education, Nicol et al. (2014) propose to include peer review. Students are thereby in the position of both receiving feedback on their own work but also providing feedback on the work of others.

How to implement peer review feedback

One way of implementing the peer review process is via Turnitin’s PeerMark feature, as Nicol et al. (2014) described in their case study. The software allows to formulate and integrate overarching questions that guide students through the feedback process. It also distributes the anonymous comments of peers automatically. This important feature not only dispenses the need for continuous monitoring and engagement by the teacher but also seems to make students more comfortable with taking part in the peer review process (Nicol et al. 2014). Key points for success

To ensure the successful implementation of peer review feedback, Nicol et al. (2014) highlight a few key points. Firstly, it is important to encourage students to participate in the feedback process, for example by incorporating it into the course requirements. Additionally, it might help to set incentives like Nicol et al. (2014), who stressed the positive impact that participation has on a “professionalism” mark as part of the course.

Secondly, it is important to address possible issues with insufficient feedback as students sometimes criticised that they felt like others did not put enough effort in (Nicol et al. 2014). To raise awareness amongst the students, setting clear expectations prior to the peer review process is crucial. Additionally, it could help to ensure that students receive comments from multiple people, thereby increasing the chance for higher quality feedback. This also provides students with a wider variety of feedback.

Lastly, Nicol et al. (2014) suggest that students should comment on rather than mark each other’s work. Peer assessment is often perceived as unfair or less accurate, or students feel like they are not qualified enough to give marks (Nicol et al. 2014, Kaufmann et al. 2011). Qualitative feedback on the other hand seems more actionable and meaningful to students and enhances their learning experience.

Impact on teachers, student learning and student experience

Both aspects of the peer review process, receiving and constructing feedback, have positive effects on student learning and experience.

Receiving feedback

Receiving feedback from peers seems to be easier to understand for students, mainly because it is written in accessible language (Nicol et al. 2014, Falchikov 2005).

Students also automatically receive more feedback, both quantitatively and in variety, compared to feedback provided by a teacher with limited time (Topping 1998). Seeing their work from different angles helps students to understand the variety in the audience, which can help to improve their writing skills (Nicol et al. 2014, Cho et al. 2010).

Additionally, the peer review feedback loop can be implemented prior to any final assignment or coursework. This gives the students the chance to implement it immediately, which benefits their learning experience (Nicol et al 2014).

Constructing feedback

The benefits of constructing feedback are also not to be underestimated. In the review process, students reflect on their own knowledge and writing by instinctively comparing the work of others to their own (Nicol et al. 2014). This makes peer reviewing a learning activity that allows for deeper understanding of a topic (Nicol et al. 2014, Cho and MacArthur 2011).

It also teaches students additional skills (Cho et al. 2010, Cho and MacArthur 2011) for example how to critically analyse texts. Likewise, students learn to apply problem-based thinking: When peer reviewing, students follow a problem-solving process of reading, identifying problems, and giving solutions.

The teacher’s perspective

For the teacher, implementing peer review tackles the most pressing issues with normal review practices that students raise. Without increasing the workload, the quality and quantity of the feedback can be improved. With the aid of suitable software, it can also be provided in a timely manner. Finally, the additional benefits of actively including students into receiving and constructing feedback might add to their development into independent and self-regulated learners (Nicol et al. 2014).

References

Higher Education Funding Council for England. 2011. The National Student Survey: Findings and Trends 2006–2010. Bristol: Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Beth R. Crisp (2007) Is it worth the effort? How feedback influences students’ subsequent submission of assessable work, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 32:5, 571-581.

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

Kaufman, J. H., and C. D. Schunn. 2011. Students’ Perceptions about Peer Assessment for Writing: Their Origin and Impact on Revision Work. Instructional Science, 39,387–406.

Falchikov, N. 2005. Improving Assessment through Student Involvement. London: Routledge–Falmer.

Topping, K. 1998. Peer Assessment between Students in Colleges and Universities. Review of Educational Research, 68(3), 249–276.

Cho, K., M. Cho, and D. J. Hacker. 2010. Self-Monitoring Support for Learning to Write. Interactive Learning Environments, 18(2), 101–113.

Cho, K., and C. MacArthur. 2011. Learning by Reviewing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(1), 73–84.