Having students work as a team for summative and formative assessment can be challenging, but implemented thoughtfully, it can be highly beneficial to students. Teamwork allows an instructor to pose more difficult problems that encourage deep learning. Group work can also be an effective way to engage students in a large class as well as prepare students for the workplace. Despite these benefits, group work can be challenging to implement.
One tool that can help group work succeed in a classroom is to incorporate peer evaluations. Peer evaluations help to provide a key benefit of group work in the classroom: teaching students how to give and receive constructive feedback. Peer evaluations provide a method to keep students accountable for their contributions to the team’s task, can help reduce group conflict, and lead to a more evenly distributed workload amongst group members. Finally, this tool can help alert instructors to conflicts in between group member. Peer evaluations have many benefits, but like group work, using this tool effectively takes careful planning.
First, the expectations of the students in the team setting must be communicated clearly and directly. Students need to be aware of the criteria by which they will be assessed and use to assess their peers. It is also essential that instructors formulate expectations that are realistic and align with the course objectives. It can be helpful to involve the students in creating the peer evaluation criteria and designing procedures surrounding peer assessment. This can motivate students to take the process seriously and address student anxiety surrounding group work. Students take more control of the peer evaluation criteria and process, promoting validity and reliability of the peer assessments.
It is also important to have multiple peer evaluations during group assessments. This allows students to develop clear expectations of their responsibility as a group member and gives students who under-perform, especially those who do not realize the are not meeting their peer’s expectations, a chance to improve.
Additionally, we need to provide students with the tools and skills to give and receive constructive feedback. Giving constructive feedback is not a natural skill and many students have not had the opportunity to participate in peer evaluation. One method to introduce students to this process is through demonstration, looking at a journal article or other work as a class and providing constructive criticism. Further, the class can work together to restructure examples of inappropriate feedback to create constructive comments. This skill that takes practice, which further exemplifies the need for multiple formative peer assessments throughout the project.
In my view, one of the most important aspects of implementing a peer evaluation system is to take into consideration your own teaching style and goals for the class. One model of peer evaluation may work for one instructor, but this model may be ineffective when implemented in your classroom. As with all teaching tools, it is important to tailor peer evaluation models to your own personality, teaching style, course, and institution. Being a good teacher is something we all strive for, but it is important to be a good teacher in a way that reflects who you are.
Peer evaluations can be a tricky component of group work, but with diligent planning and consideration, this tool can make group work a more realistic and successful exercise in the classroom.
Aggarwal, P. & O’Brien, C.L. (2008). Social Loafing on Group Projects: Structural Antecedents and Effect on Student Satisfaction. Journal of Marketing Education, 30(3), 255-64.
Cestone, C.M., Levine, R.E. & Lane, D.R. Peer Assessment and Evaluation in Team-Based Learning. In Michaelson, L.K., Sweet, M., Parmelee, D.X. (Eds.), Team-Based Learning: Small-Group Learnings Next Big Step (69-78). San Francisco: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.