Negotiating ground rules for peer feedback

Assessor: Annemarie Knight, Programme Director, Dietetics and Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics Education.
Module: Food Service and Catering Management.
Assessment activity: The  module is offered to about 40 students. As a formative exercise, groups of students develop menu plans for a nursery or other community setting, incorporating what they have learnt about nutritional requirements and dietary needs for the population. During a classroom session, each group gives peer feedback to another group, which responds to that feedback in turn. This work informs their individual summative coursework, which is a nutritional analysis of their menu.

Why did you introduce this approach to assessment?

The menu planning assessment is a good opportunity to apply the nutrition they learned earlier in the programme. Producing their menus in groups is authentic for this a professional module, and students tend to engage with it well.

This model introduces students to peer feedback,  a skill they will have to develop during the placement component of their programme, when pairs of students attached to one dietitian will undertake peer-assisted learning activities, including giving feedback. It gives the students the opportunity to consider good practice in delivering feedback and how feedback from peers can inform their own work.

How did you design the assessment criteria and weighting?

The group work and peer feedback aspects are purely formative. Groups give feedback using the same grid of criteria descriptors and levels of achievement as staff use to summatively grade the coursework. They also give three suggestions for improving the menu.

How did you give opportunities for formative practice?

Earlier in the module before the peer feedback session, students do a practice exercise in class. I show them a menu I have produced myself, and invite students point out mistakes and give me feedback. That tends to take 30 minutes or less.

How did you explain the assessment to students?

During the peer feedback session, students negotiate ground rules for giving feedback – they tend to be things like “Be kind”, and  “Be constructive”. Each cohort generates fresh ground rules each time, and I contribute any important ones they may have missed.

How did you give feedback?

Following the peer feedback session, the students submit the work to me for formative feedback. I ask then to explain how they have (or indeed have not) incorporated the feedback they received from their peers. My feedback includes commentary on the menu the group have produced and also feedback on their justification for how they approached the work and used the feedback.

What benefits did you see?

Students tend to be on board with this activity. Some of them get very creative in their approach to menu design- for example, about growing their own herbs, encouraging food autonomy, and the kinds of activities which engage the children in the nursery in learning about food. For students, it can be one of the first activities they do where they apply the knowledge they have been learning to a practical real – world context.

The external examiner has observed that the feedback students give they give is from an informed standpoint, which indicates they have learned both professional knowledge and also professional practices which will help them work with colleagues in the future.

What advice would you give to colleagues who are considering trying this?

Setting ground rules is important. Sometimes students worry that somebody else will take their idea, so we have a discussion about that. I try to get them to recognise that using not stealing – but if they do use somebody else’s idea, they should cite their source just as they would any other academic source. But I tend to recommend they come up with their own ideas.

What are your next steps?

My next steps are to consider opportunities to expand use of the model and to develop activities where opportunities for peer feedback include more consideration of marking criteria.

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