Are feedback exercises becoming the bane of students’
lives? It may seem so considering the multiple assessments
required of NUS students and the response of one of my students
who remarked that it was ‘feedback fatigue’ and
not ‘exam fatigue’ that riled her. Likewise the
apathy of my foreign graduate students towards peer-assessment;
they would give inaccurate feedback by ticking the same column
for all aspects of an oral presentation skills performance.
Thus the peer-assessments that I had conducted in the past
semesters had failed miserably. Consequently, I was confronted
with the question of how to motivate my students to be more
discriminating and enhance their learning at the same time.
Using peer- as well as self-assessments to contribute towards
a student’s final grade is one of the ways to encourage
students to exercise critical thinking and take responsibility
for their learning. From the voluminous research done on peer-
and self-assessments, the general consensus is that the two
assessments are measures of improving students’ grades
through students’ motivation to learn, particularly
in tertiary institutes (Boud, 1981; Falchikov, 1986; Falchikov,
1988). Self-assessment is defined as where the learner judges
his own performance against his own assessment criteria (Falchikov,
1986:147). In addition, it “involves learners in the
processes of determining what is good in any given situation.
It requires them to consider the characteristics of say, a
good essay or practical report, or performance skills in a
practical exercise” (Boud, 1995:12). Thus self-assessment
could enhance learning if learners take responsibility for
their grades. It encourages critical thinking and critical
assessment that is more objective as opposed to subjective
assessment made by a single assessor.
Bearing in mind the advantages of peer- and self-assessments
(Boud, 1981; Falchikov, 1986; Falchikov, 1988), I introduced
the two assessments together with tutor assessment for a 100%
continual assessment course in oral presentation skills that
is compulsory for foreign doctorate graduates to read as part
of their English language and communication skills requirements.
Implemented on a total of 30 students in semester two (AY
2001/02) and semester one (AY 2002/03), the
final grade1 was obtained from average of the three scores from the three
assessments. Students were trained to assess themselves using
the same criteria in both peer-and tutor assessments through
class discussions, lectures, previewing professional public
speakers, viewing and learning from professional teaching
videotapes, critiquing and assessing the performance of previous
students’ oral presentation skills. Each student had
to do a five-minute oral presentation that was videotaped
for the individual and the group to practise self- and peer-assessments
and to calculate their final scores that included the tutor’s
ratings. They then individually did a 20-minute videotaped
oral presentation where all the three assessments were made.
Observations from the sample group of 30 students in the
two semesters showed that self- and peer-assessments contributed
significantly towards students’ motivation to improve.
There were minimal deviations in the marks given by the tutor,
the peers and self. This concurred with studies of Filene
(1969) and Falchikov (1986) that the older the students the
more accurate the peer marks with the tutors, thus addressing
the possible problem of inaccuracies in a single teacher’s
rating. Students came to recognise that the three kinds of
assessments were more accurate (reliable) as opposed to evaluations
done by a single assessor, which could be subjective. The
observation verifies that of Magin & Helmsore (2001) who
showed that in oral presentation skills, where there is a
single teacher’s rating, peer-assessment should be
included to act as a benchmark in order to obtain a more accurate
overall rating. Instead of being nonchalant, students learned
to be more constructive in their peer feedback because they
felt that they and their peers needed encouragement to improve.
In short, they learned to take responsibility for their learning.
In particular, foreign students from a different education
system experienced a sense of fulfilment when they attempted
to achieve their target marks. In addition, they felt honoured
to be given some responsibility for the grading system. In
a questionnaire on this exercise, 75% of the foreign graduates
agreed that these assessments were fair and accurate. Most
importantly, this exercise had shown that self-assessment
was a good way of reinforcing assessment procedures and patterns,
by “providing an opportunity to renegotiate, in a controlled
way, certain aspects of the marking process” (Taras,
To ensure that all three assessments were accurate and fair,
it was necessary to devote time and energy to train the students
to do a proper assessment. This may discourage tutors who
are constrained by insufficient time for their modules and
a large class. However, the time-consuming and labour-intensive
training sessions can be modified and various methods can
be adopted to prevent feedback fatigue and subjective assessment.
For example, I taught and trained another group of foreign
graduates to assess themselves and their peers by checking
on specific criteria items in the evaluation forms, without
being videotaped for their presentations. The result showed
accuracy of peer and tutor marks, i.e. minimal deviation of
peers’ marks from the tutors’. It also showed
that the students were equally motivated to learn and improve
on their oral presentation skills.
Self- and peer-assessments of students’ course work
(particularly those that involve performance skills in laboratories,
clinics, field work, work attachments and any practical projects)
are more likely to achieve reliability of marks. Studies have
also shown that tertiary students have benefited from self-
and peer-assessments because they can foster critical self-assessment—a
skill highly valued by both the academic as well as the corporate
world. However, changing the mindsets of tutors to make students
responsible for their final marks could be more difficult
than the preparations required on the part of the tutor.
Boud, D. (Ed.). (1981). Developing Student Autonomy in
Learning. London: Kogan Page.
Boud, D. (1995). Enhancing Learning Through Self-Assessment.
London: Kogan Page.
Falchikov, N. (1986). ‘Product Comparisons and Process
Benefits of Collaborative Peer Group and Self-assessment’. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education.
Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 146–166.
Falchikov, N. (1988). ‘Self and Peer Assessment of
a Group Project Designed to Promote the Skills of Capability. Programmed Learning & Educational Technology. Vol. 26, No. 4, pp. 327–339.
Filene, P. G. (1969). ‘Self-grading: An Experiment
in Learning’. Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 40, No. 6, pp. 451–458.
Magin, D. & Helmore, P. (2001). ‘Peer and Teacher
Assessments of Oral Presentation Skills: How Reliable are
They’? Studies in Higher Education. Vol. 26,
No. 3, pp. 287–298.
Taras, M. (2001). ‘The Use of Tutor Feedback and Student
Self-assessment in Summative Assessment Tasks: Towards Transparency
for Students and for Tutors’. Assessment & Evaluation
in Higher Education. Vol. 26, No. 6, pp. 605–614.
1 Confidentiality applies to
the university’s grading system but not to the final
grade I use.