Leveraging Peer Assessment to Strengthen Core Concepts

Steven Forsey (LinkedIn), has been instructing at the University of Waterloo since 1985. From a lab instructor to a professor, Steven has spent a significant amount of time with students in regard to chemical education. His knowledge of organic chemistry led him to create a widely used, interactive chemistry textbook by thousands of students.

Steven uses Kritik to ensure his organic chemistry students are learning how to do problems with their peers and getting feedback along the way. Classes of students between 80 and 350 students possess their own unique challenges, and Steve has addressed them through Kritik. Seeing how your peers respond to something is a proven method of learning, and Steve explains why he leverages that by using Kritik.

STEM courses are difficult. They are meant to be difficult, as the foundations learned in STEM courses can lead or inspire an individual to solve complex problems. Steve knows that everyone learns differently, especially in STEM. It would be foolish to believe that technology does not automate or assist humans in achieving goals, and Steve would be the first one to tell you that.

What do you use Kritik for?

I create activities for students in which they essentially are submitting their homework on Kritik. I then provide an answer key for the students, and they use that answer key and a rubric in Kritik to evaluate each other. That evaluation process is where a LOT of learning takes place.

Steve has used Kritik to optimize a seemingly rigid process; homework. The norm dictating STEM courses would be for students to attend a tutorial or discussion to practice problems, where students can get experience in solving problems. However, TA teaching ability drastically varies, so professors like Steve use Kritik to ensure students can learn from one another, especially when 350 students only fetch a class 3 TA's (with limited teaching hours).

How does Kritik perform in a large chemistry class?

I was very happy with the way it worked out, and the students did not have any issues adapting to Kritik for their submissions. If any issues came up, Kritik’s technical chat support dealt with the students quickly, and I did not need to help them.

Large courses have been the easiest way for universities to increase their enrolment. No professor that enjoys teaching is pleased when they see a class of 300 with blank stares, and they are especially annoyed with the number of emails from students before an assignment or midterm. Bringing helpful and efficient technology into the classroom can be dangerous if the software does not have a strong support system. Steve was very pleased with not having to be the middleman between technological questions and his students, and he was able to focus on optimizing the peer evaluation process.

Why is peer evaluation important for STEM courses?

It is important for STEM students to deeply understand concepts before they attempt to create research. Beyond just writing answers down, peer evaluation encourages students to think about what they are doing, write what they are doing, and reflect upon what they’ve done, which is an essential part of their work lives after university.

Steven is an enthusiast of educational technology, as he believes integrating technology like Kritik resonates with his students. STEM students often have underdeveloped soft skills, which are essential to their futures. Using Kritik for his organic chemistry class of 400 students, students are able to receive personalized feedback in a way that Steven could never provide on his own.

Steven Forsey
Steven Forsey
University of Waterloo
Lecturer & Medicinal Chemistry Advisor

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