Improving Peer Feedback with Peergrade

Lisa Spitz is an assistant professor at Lesley’s College of Art and Design and the program director for the User Experience online BS degree program. Lisa worked with eLIS this fall to pilot a peer feedback tool, called Peergrade, in her Sketching for Interactive Design course. Below she shares her and her students’ experiences using Peergrade.

In this course, students use sketching to document research insights, tell a story, and visualize mobile interface concepts and interactions. Each individual assignment includes a period of sketching and revising, where students provide peer feedback and then revise their own sketches for overall clarity. My initial experience teaching this course in Blackboard raised a number of challenges with the peer review process: not all peer feedback was of the same caliber and not all students received the same amount of feedback. This meant I was compensating for poor and/or incomplete feedback. I was also manually tracking the quality and quantity of feedback each student provided to their peers, for grading purposes. Further, due to inconsistencies in the types of feedback received, students reported finding it difficult to revise their work. 

Over the summer, John McCormick in eLIS introduced me to an online peer review platform called Peergrade. The overall format and structure of Peergrade was a good match for my particular assignment structure and I was interested in seeing how it might better support our students in the peer review process.

The tool itself was fairly easy to learn. As an instructor, I was able to set up my “classroom” in Peergrade and create each of my assignments. For students, their experience entailed posting their sketches in Peergrade and then evaluating their peers’ sketches based on a custom rubric (which I set up in advance of the course running). The biggest challenge I faced was in tailoring the rubrics to each individual assignment. Students evaluated their peers work based on quantity and diversity of sketches as well as unique requirements for each assignment. The rubrics I created provided students with both quantitative and qualitative feedback on their sketches; and the system guaranteed that each student received feedback from three other students.

Students responded favorably to the use of Peergrade. They were fairly self-sufficient in using the Peergrade platform. It required very little technical support from my end; for instance, allowing late assignment submissions and permitting students to re-upload their work. Some adhoc quotes found in journal entries and the course evaluation include:

  • “I really like Peergrade, I only wish the rest of my courses used this site. It is so much easier to give the feedback and receive the feedback that you want without upsetting another peer about your opinion. Since it is anonymous it is easier to be truthful if you have suggestions on changes.”
  • “That program allowed me to finally get honest feedback from my peers on how they truly felt about my work.”
  • “By reviewing other students, I often could improve my own work through just that process alone.”
  • “The peer commenting system was a great way to discuss among other students each other’s work before turning in the final assignment each week. Critiquing helped me understand my own skills better.”
  • “Peergrade was life changing, love it.”

In an ideal world, I’d spend more time user-testing assignment rubrics before launching these assignments with a live class. However, design is an iterative process and course design is no different and I anticipate refining each assignment rubric with each course instantiation.

If you’re just not sure how this would work within your classroom context, I’d say start small. Choose one project in which you’d like students to give and receive quality peer feedback. Decide what a “good” assignment submission looks like and set up your rubric to probe specifically on those areas. Then, see what the experience looks like from both the Instructor and Student views. Having an initial experience with Peergrade will help you to determine just how and when it might be an asset in your courses. 

Peergrade is currently be used in a small number of online and on campus courses at Lesley. If you would like more information on using Peergrade or peer feedback in your courses, contact elis@lesley.edu.

A Student’s Take on Peer Review

In this summative assignment in a freshmen Honors English Composition class, students were asked to review their papers and assignments from the course, and determine 1-3 specific areas of growth or improvement, as well as specific classroom activities, assignments, etc. that contributed to the improvement. Students were then asked to demonstrate this in a creative work in any format/mode, and present the project to the class. A goal of the project was to reflect on one’s learning in a creative style which reflects both the learning itself and the personality or talents of the student.

Emily Tran created this awesome reflective video on her experiences with peer review.

Student Peer Review Research and Practice: A Cross-University Collaboration

A team of faculty, staff and students presented our research on student peer review at Community of Scholars Day: “Critique Creates Community? Effects of Peer Review and Metacognitive Strategies”. Inspired by the culture of critique at Lesley’s College of Art and Design (LUCAD) and with the shared goal of improving students’ analytical writing and other assignments, three faculty gathered a team to investigate peer review methods using a research-based approach. Our background research on peer review and the results of empirical research with our own students were closely aligned, revealing the many benefits of peer review that can be achieved under specific conditions. As a result of our inquiry, we have been revising our peer review processes, excited by the improvements seen thus far and the possibility for enhanced skills in many areas. Below, we will discuss key components and benefits of the peer review protocol we first drafted in the fall of 2016 and updated this year.

Our peer review protocol is driven by the Dialogic Feedback Cycle, which, importantly, includes extensive use of metacognitive learning strategies. Critical to the peer review process is the dynamic between students’ individual (internal) processing and pairs’ external collaborative processing (see Figure 1 below). Students work both individually and with peers in order to reflect on and revise their work.  Throughout this process, the writer drives the process, first by identifying their goals and requesting specific areas for feedback, and at the end, by explaining their choices for revising their work to the instructor.

Internal-External Dynamic of Peer Review process

Figure 1

Before engaging in peer review sessions, the instructor builds an environment that prepares students to participate in a committed way to this collaborative process (Step 1). This is achieved by discussing benefits and challenges; explaining and modeling peer review; and, most importantly, creating a trusting relationship among students.  Many students dislike or distrust the peer review process based on previous experience – including concerns that peers will not take their work seriously, or that they themselves will be unable to review peers’ work satisfactorily – so discussing students’ insecurities and establishing goals aids in building trust.  Peer review sessions focus on collaborative discussion, driven by the needs of the writer. (Step 2). Following peer review sessions, students determine the most valuable feedback to revise their work, and then explain to the instructor how they used feedback in their revisions. This closes the loop on the feedback cycle (Step 3).

There is a growing realization that self-evaluation skills should be a major goal of higher education (1). Learners’ ability to effectively evaluate their own work greatly enhances their success, both in school and later in the workplace (2).  Research on peer review in higher education and our own work with our students has shown a multitude of benefits, including improvements in collaborative skills; self-confidence, understanding of subject matter;  connection with peers; metacognition; and transfer of skills beyond the classroom (3). In our study, students reported a strong connection to peers from the peer review process, which may have implications for general education and retention. As we continue to apply research to our practice in the classroom, we invite interested faculty members to join us.

If you have questions about our work or would like to join us in our research and efforts to improve teaching practice via peer review, please contact Liv Cummins (lcummins2@lesley.edu).

Peer Review Team:
Research and Practice:

  • Summer Clark (Assistant Professor of Literacy Education, CLAS)
  • Liv Cummins (Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Drama, CLAS)
  • Kimberly Lowe (Assistant Professor of European History, CLAS)

Lesley student research: Casey Bogusz (CLAS)
Research lead for Lesley student research: Linda Pursley (Research and Assessment)
Background research support: John McCormick (eLIS):

Citations:

  1. Boud, D., & Dochy, F. (2010). Assessment 2020. Seven propositions for assessment reform in higher education.
  2. Nicol, D. (2010). The foundation for graduate attributes: Developing self-regulation through self and peer assessment. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. Scotland.
  3. Pearce, J., Mulder, R., & Baik, C. (2009). Involving students in peer review: Case studies and practical strategies for university teaching.