Feedback is a vital component of the assessment process. Providing meaningful feedback to students is central to developing both learner competence and confidence and is, in the words of Hattie & Timperley (2007), “the most powerful single moderator that enhances achievement”. However, figures from the National Student Survey (2019) show that many students across UK universities are largely unsatisfied with the feedback they receive on their work. Teaching staff are therefore often tasked with finding new and innovative methods of increasing both the quality and quantity of student feedback as a way to enhance the learning experience.
PeerMark™ is a tool available through Turnitin that allows students to anonymously review and provide comments on papers submitted by their coursemates. It is argued by Rust (2002) that peer-based marking makes assessment more ‘learner-centered’, as students are able to directly engage with the feedback process itself. This in turn can stimulate critical thinking and provide students with new insights into their own performance that they would not gain from simply reviewing their own work.
Last year, we attempted to implement PeerMark™ into a timed essay assessment on the KCL Forensic Science MSc. For this assessment, a cohort consisting of around 30 students was asked to prepare a strategy document outlining how they would process a particular crime scene, given a set of circumstances and photographs. At the end of the three-hour allotted assessment period, each essay submitted to Turnitin was randomly distributed through the PeerMark™ system to another student for marking. Students were given one final hour to review the work, provide feedback comments (in whichever format they preferred) and assign the essay a grade out of one hundred.
In general, our students responded positively to the increased amount of feedback they received on their work, as well as the ability to gain an immediate measure of how they performed within one hour of submission (as opposed to days or weeks afterwards). However, we also found that integrating the PeerMark™ system was not without its challenges. This post therefore covers some of the key do’s and don’ts of using PeerMark™ based on lessons learned:
Do: Set expectations in advance
One widely known challenge in implementing peer-based marking systems in higher education is getting students motivated enough to take part. Many students believe that teaching staff should be solely responsible for marking and feedback provision and that any type of self or peer-based assessment is additional unnecessary ‘work’ for them to complete within an already overloaded schedule. It is therefore crucial that students are informed as far in advance as possible (preferably at the beginning of the semester or within the module handbook) as to when peer-marking activities will occur and given an explanation of how taking part in these activities is likely to increase their own performance.
Do: Teach students about what ‘good’ feedback really means
In order for peer-marking to have any benefit, students should be able to provide feedback to their coursemates that is constructive and addresses ways in which the author can improve for their next assignment. Without providing initial instruction to students on how to provide effective feedback, you run the risk of students making comments that are unhelpful, or in some cases hurtful (which will largely achieve the opposite of increasing learner confidence). It is therefore a good idea to share some principles of good feedback (see: HEA Feedback toolkit) with students before any peer-marking activity takes place.
Don’t: Implement PeerMark™ without doing a test run
Whilst on the surface PeerMark™ seems like a fairly intuitive system to use, we found that many students experience difficulties in accessing other students’ work or comments that have been left on their own submissions by coursemates. This seems to be especially true when students use their own laptops, which utilise a variety of different operating systems and web browsers. We therefore advise that prior to any peer-marking activity, a test assignment is set up in which several staff members try access and comment on a mock submission. It may also be beneficial to schedule a dedicated portion of time for students to undertake the peer-marking within a student computing room (SCR). This will help to create a standard technological environment and allow staff to respond to any technical issues in person.
Don’t: Expect PeerMark to save you time
One of the reasons that teaching staff attempt to use PeerMark™ in assignments is the belief that it will alleviate their marking burden in some way by having students provide the majority of feedback. However, in most cases, additional time is needed for troubleshooting of technological issues and reviewing comments left by students on each other’s work (often negating any time-saving benefits). Before implementing peer-marking, staff should think carefully about what they want to achieve from such a system. If their goal is to increase module evaluation scores by enhancing the quality and quantity of student feedback, then PeerMark™ may be a very useful tool. However, if their purpose is to reduce time spent on marking assignments, then other strategies, such as ‘live marking’, may be more beneficial.
- Hattie, J. and Timperley, H., 2007. The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), pp.81-112.)
- Rust, C., 2002. The impact of assessment on student learning: how can the research literature practically help to inform the development of departmental assessment strategies and learner-centred assessment practices?. Active learning in higher education, 3(2), pp.145-158.)
Written by James Gooch
James Gooch is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the School of Population Health and Environmental Science. He is also a module lead on the KCL Forensic Science MSc programme and teaches on the ‘Forensic Genetics and Toxicology’ module of the Biomedical Sciences BSc, the King’s Forensics MOOC and the Bolashak Bespoke Programme in Forensic Sciences.