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Does Self- and Peer Assessment Improve Learning in Groups?

Studies with Practical Implications

Does Self- and Peer Assessment Improve Learning in Groups?

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Teachers can’t monitor what’s happening in multiple groups. Students, on the other hand, know exactly what’s happening in their group—who’s contributing what in the group as well as what they’re doing. From that position they can make judgments and offer peers feedback. The potential benefits of their doing so include self-assessment skill development, more engagement with group processes, and acceptance of the responsibility for learning. But empirical substantiation of those benefits is scant, with indications that feedback effects may vary depending on whether the feedback offers praise or criticism; whether it focuses on the task, group processes, or self-assessments; and whether it focuses on past actions or offers advice for the future. This study addresses one gap in the research. Does the exchange of feedback between students enhance teamwork and self-assessment abilities? The answer may offer evidence that confirms the assumed value of self- and peer assessment in the context of group work.

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Teachers can’t monitor what’s happening in multiple groups. Students, on the other hand, know exactly what’s happening in their group—who’s contributing what in the group as well as what they’re doing. From that position they can make judgments and offer peers feedback. The potential benefits of their doing so include self-assessment skill development, more engagement with group processes, and acceptance of the responsibility for learning. But empirical substantiation of those benefits is scant, with indications that feedback effects may vary depending on whether the feedback offers praise or criticism; whether it focuses on the task, group processes, or self-assessments; and whether it focuses on past actions or offers advice for the future. This study addresses one gap in the research. Does the exchange of feedback between students enhance teamwork and self-assessment abilities? The answer may offer evidence that confirms the assumed value of self- and peer assessment in the context of group work.

The study

Sridharan, B., & Boud, D. (2019). The effects of peer judgement on teamwork and self-assessment ability in collaborative group work. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(6), 894–909. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1545898

The research questions

Interesting background information

Related research makes clear that teamwork and self-assessment skills do not automatically develop just because students work together in a group. When it comes to offering feedback that might improve both, students usually don’t have a lot of prior experiences assessing peers and are often reluctant to deliver honest assessments—especially if those assessments count toward the grade. Peer feedback also has some credibility problems. Students don’t think they have the expertise to provide feedback, and hence they don’t value the input delivered by their peers. Grades alone have been shown not to provide enough information to influence individual or group performance, in large part because they are so after the fact. Previous research on the influence of positive and negative feedback on individual and group performance is decidedly mixed. Overall, studies on the effects of self-assessments and peer ratings are something of a hodgepodge and fail to offer a clear or comprehensive understanding of their contributions to group dynamics and the development of the skills group members need.

The study cohort

Ninety-eight students enrolled in two undergraduate courses and one graduate course at an Australian university

Methodological overview

In randomly assigned groups with three to five members, students completed a “real-life project” (p. 899) over 11 weeks. They produced a written report that counted for 80 percent of the grade, an individual reflective essay worth the remaining 20 percent, and two rounds of mandatory self-and peer ratings accompanied with comments. The first round of feedback was formative, aimed at helping students improve the group’s functioning and their contributions as well as their ability to accurately self-assess. The second round of feedback was summative and counted in the group work product. The researchers developed “a conceptual parallel mediation model” (p. 905) and tested it using “a type of structural equation modeling” that addresses problems such as the small sample size (p. 901).

Findings

Cautions and caveats

The sample size is small. Also, the article does not contain information as to the field of study—whether students were all in the same program or from different disciplines which raises the question of generalizability. The findings are consistent with some related research on self and peer assessments and at odds with other findings. It’s a research area where findings from one study, even a well-designed inquiry such as this, should not be taken as conclusive evidence of the effects.

Practical implications (what you might want to do about the findings)

These students made 523 qualitative comments, and 65 percent of them offered praise compared to 17 percent that offered criticism. Seventy-one percent made comments about past behaviors, and 11 percent provided future-focused comments—ostensibly pointing out behaviors that students could continue or improve. It confirms what many teachers observe: students are uncomfortable offering negative feedback and don’t know how to do so constructively. These are skills that students can develop with instruction and opportunities to practice. In a related work (discussed here), Carless and Boud (2018) propose a framework to develop student feedback literacy that includes cultivating an appreciation for feedback, making judgments, managing affect, and taking action.

Some evidence in this study hints at a vicious cycle between not valuing peer feedback and consequently not devoting much time or effort to providing it. As a result students receive not particularly helpful feedback, and that reinforces initial beliefs about its value. So, improving the quality of peer feedback directly links to developing students’ appreciation of it. There are lots of ways teachers can help students improve the feedback they provide—for instance, by using a scenario that describes a common nonproductive group behavior and then engaging students in a discussion of various responses to that behavior; by letting students discuss and offer potential improvements to a set of teacher-provided peer comments; or by providing feedback guidelines that identify areas the feedback should address.

Related research

Carless, D., & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: Enabling uptake of feedback. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1315–1325. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354 [open access]


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