How to Address Ineffective Feedback in Peer Assessment

Peer assessment platforms have bridged the transition from in-person learning to online learning and provided students with a meaningful and engaging learning experience. Peer assessment encourages student engagement with their peers and increases accountability while reducing the workload of educators. 

Peer assessment is an effective learning tool; however, complications may arise with students providing feedback to one another.  More specifically, students who have difficulty taking critical feedback and feel vulnerable showing their work to their peers may decide to address these feelings by providing careless feedback and evaluation to their peers. If a student offers insensitive or poor-quality peer feedback, it can damage their confidence and strain peer relationships (Topping, 2017).

Peer assessment may not come easily to all students, and it’s a skill that should be developed and honed throughout one’s academic and professional experience. In school and life, providing both critical and motivating feedback and the ability to receive this feedback with grace and positivity is an essential skill.

Instructors need to prepare for the complications and challenges of peer assessment before introducing it in their course. Like everything, with every difficulty comes a valuable learning opportunity for students to expand their learning and improve their communication skills.

What is Peer Assessment?

Peer Assessment is the process wherein educators have students evaluate or grade another student's work against established assessment criteria. In this process, students provide feedback to their peers, also known as peer review. 

Peer assessment has become a popular subject over the last three decades as it comes with many benefits to academic performance (Double, McGrane, Hopfenback, 2020). It provides an opportunity for peers to engage more deeply in their learning and receive more feedback for each assignment or activity than waiting for their instructor to provide one final evaluation of their work after the final submission.

When students assess their peers’ work, they are exposed to new ideas and perspectives and inevitably compare their peers’ work against their own. By doing so, students develop interpersonal skills that extend outside the classroom. 

Peer assessment applications, such as Kritik, can streamline this experience for students and instructors alike. When students act as reviewers or assessors, they perform the role of instructor to their peers, which improves their meta-cognitive skills. Through peer assessment, students learn by teaching, a 21st-century learning concept that engages students more deeply in their learning.  


Types of Ineffective Peer Assessment:

“Revenge” Peer Assessment

When students assess their peers' work, they may intentionally give bad grades in certain instances. There are many reasons why this may occur, including friction or adversity outside the classroom. It’s best to address this situation directly with the student to see if there are any personal reasons behind their decision to present unjustified negative feedback. If they are doing it to spite another student who submitted poor feedback to them, a conversation addressing the vulnerability of peer assessment, discussing the benefits of this type of experience, and reminding them that the classroom is a safe space can go a long way.

“Favoritism” Peer Assessment

Students may want to provide unjustified positive grades to their friends. While this may be done in good spirit, it harms the learning experience for them and the entire class. Peer assessment is a collaborative experience, and when done correctly, has tremendous benefits to provide a more enriching and meaningful learning experience while developing critical thinking skills. Reminding students that giving high grades to their friends will do more harm than good is an excellent place to start addressing this issue.

“Careless” Peer Assessment

In some cases, students are careless and give everyone the same mark without adequately assessing the work. In this situation, instructors can remind students of the goal and reason for the exercise. Co-creating rubrics, creating buy-in early on, and introducing activities students feel passionate about are effective ways to make sure students put thought and care into their assessments. 

In addition to revenge, favouritism and carless peer feedback, students may produce inadequate evaluations because of a lack of experience. Peer assessment is a skill that takes time to develop. Students may struggle to provide strong assessments because of a lack of knowledge of assessment criteria or unfamiliarity with assessment techniques (Karaca, 2009). Many students have experience with peer assessing in their younger schooling years; however, this assessment likely looks different than what a professor would expect in a higher education setting. It’s a good idea to spend time explaining the process, providing exemplars, and making sure each student has the information and knowledge to approach their first peer assessment in a given course confidently. 

Kritik helps instructors avoid or address ineffective feedback. Kritik uses a double-blind peer assessment, where students' identities are kept anonymous. This creates a safe environment where students feel comfortable providing honest feedback and receiving critical and motivational feedback. 

Kritik takes peer assessment one step further by having students assess the peer assessment provided to them. In other words, feedback on feedback. Students are scored based on two factors. The first is how their provided evaluation scores compare to their peers and professor for a specific piece of work. The other is a score given to them based on how motivational and critical their provided feedback was. If a student gives out feedback that is either too high or too low, they will receive a lower grading score, and their peer assessment will have a lower weighting in future assignments. The AI-driven system in Kritik improves the student experience while making sure the professor can focus on mentoring and teaching students. 

Kritik makes the peer assessment process streamlined for both professor and student

The students' grading power is adjusted automatically within Kritik to reflect the their grading abilities. This score changes overtime, and impacts the weighting of a student's peer evaluation.

5 Tips to Avoid Ineffective Peer Assessment

Researcher Hui-Tzu Min, from the Department of Foreign Languages at National Cheng Kung University, studied the effects of peer review on English as a Foreign Language Students (EFL). Hui-Tzu found that with training inside and outside of class, and peer review feedback (or “Feedback on Feedback”), instructors can positively impact students’ revision types and work quality throughout the semester (Min, 2006).  

Here are five tips to avoid ineffective peer assessment and improve the learning experiences for students:

  1. Model Effective Peer Feedback

Instructors have an important role in modeling effective feedback before the peer assessment begins. Before the peer review process, instructors can use a “think aloud” method to walk through an example review and verbalize the thought process. Guiding questions can be used through modelling to help students in their process. These questions may include, “Do you mean that…” and “Are you saying…”. Additionally, through the modelling process, instructors should refer to clear learning goals and success criteria (Topping, 2018).

  1. Provide Feedback to Students on their Peer Assessment 

When the students have completed peer assessment, there should be an opportunity to receive feedback on their feedback. This feedback can come from the instructor and their peers. Feedback on feedback is critical for students to improve their assessment over the semester, and it will improve engagement and accountability through the process (Boon, 2015). 

With Kritik, feedback on feedback is an important part of the process. The feedback on feedback step is built into the activity. It is applied to the final grade based on the specified weighting provided by the instructor.

  1. Build Positive Attitudes around Peer Assessment

While the benefits of peer assessment might be clear to the instructor and a group of students, it is best to build positive attitudes towards peer assessment throughout the semester. Students should understand the why behind peer assessment before taking part. Consider facilitating a class discussion where students present possible reasons why peer assessment works. Co-create peer assessment expectations, outlining what feedback students would like to receive for their work. Lastly, provide opportunities for students to ask questions, raise concerns and set up a time to speak with the instructor. This transparency and taking the time to identify existing attitudes will set a strong foundation for a successful term of peer assessment (Karaca, 2009). 

  1. Use an Anonymous Feedback Process

Anonymous feedback is an effective way for students to feel comfortable and safe providing and receiving feedback.  A recent study shows that students provide stronger feedback when they remain anonymous in the process (Rotsaert, Panadero, Schellens, 2018). Anonymous feedback also ensures an unbiased and fair assessment process among peers. 

The peer assessment process in Kritik is anonymous, allowing students to feel comfortable and confident providing feedback.

  1. Use a Rubric

There are several benefits of using a rubric to guide students and set clear expectations through the peer-review process. A rubric encourages students to explain their feedback clearly and constructively. Rubrics also reduce grade disputes and encourage critical thinking, as students put themselves in the instructor’s seat and “learn by teaching.” There are different types of rubrics, with specific rubrics best suited to particular classes or activities.

Kritik has a repository of customizable rubrics to help professors quickly find the one best suited to their class, and modify it as necessary.  

Kritik offers customizable rubrics and templates to choose from

Final Thoughts

Peer assessment is not a means to an end. It’s a strategy to empower students in their learning, increase engagement, accountability, and develop critical thinking and higher-order learning skills. Peer assessment is an ongoing process of iteration and growth that challenges the students. By building buy-in early on and teaching students why peer assessment is such a powerful tool, instructors will find greater success in implementation and will experience a more enriched classroom environment. 

  1. Topping, K. (2017). Peer assessment: Learning by judging and discussing the work of other learners. Interdisciplinary Education and Psychology, 1(1), 1-17.
  2. Double, K. S., McGrane, J. A., & Hopfenbeck, T. N. (2020). The impact of peer assessment on academic performance: A meta-analysis of control group studies. Educational Psychology Review, 32, 481–509. 
  3. Karaca, E. (2009). An evaluation of teacher trainee's opinions of the peer assessment in terms of some variables. World Applied Sciences Journal, 6(1), 123-128.
  4. Boon, S. I. (2015). The role of training in improving peer assessment skills amongst year six pupils in primary school writing: an action research enquiry. Education 3-13, 43(6), 666-682.
  5. Topping, K. (2018). Using peer assessment to inspire reflection and learning. Routledge.
  6. Min, H. T. (2006). The effects of trained peer review on EFL students’ revision types and writing quality. Journal of second language writing, 15(2), 118-141.
  7. Rotsaert, T., Panadero, E., & Schellens, T. (2018). Anonymity as an instructional scaffold in peer assessment: its effects on peer feedback quality and evolution in students’ perceptions about peer assessment skills. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 33(1), 75-99.
Justin DeMarchi
Content Marketer and Education Consultant