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This issue of CDTL Brief presents the last instalment of a two-part discussion on the issues surrounding IT-supported Learning Strategies.

September 2003, Vol. 6, No. 9 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
The Value of Online Student Peer Review, Evaluation and Feedback in Higher Education
 
Mr J. A. Gilles Doiron
Principal Educational Technologist
Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning, NUS
 

Since the inception of the World Wide Web and its rapid adoption by the public, business, government and education, research into its use has been constantly outpaced by its exponential growth. Just as architects and innovators of earlier technologies learnt of why and how new technologies worked through trial and further improvements, ‘cyberphiles’ are discovering the possibilities and inadequacies of Information and Communication Technology as new features emerge. Regardless of the unfolding technical wizardry, while some believe that the underlying principles of learning and cognition do not change with the medium of delivery (Wilson & Lowry, 2000), others argue that in some cases developments in technology have brought new perspectives on how humans learn (Papert, 1980) and new possibilities of expressing cognition such as through simulation and model building (Jonassen, 1995).

To date, much of the teaching and learning through information technology has focused on scripting presentations and providing pre-programming responses to limited user input. However, this ‘Online Tutorial’ design approach has never been very effective at supporting activities for critical thinking. Addressing these levels of cognitive processing demands a nuance in identifying user input and a level of sophistication in creating meaningful feedback that is best exemplified through human communication, or even computer-mediated human communication. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) has great potential in promoting the relationships necessary to support and expand one’s knowledge and the challenge is to design CMC-enhanced learning activities that support strategies aimed at eliciting reflection, critical thinking and debate.

One approach is to involve students in the revision, evaluation and feedback process of correcting online assignments, i.e. online peer assessment. However, some have criticised the use of non-traditional assessment methods such as peer assessment for being: (a) less rigorous than traditional forms of assessment; (b) too demanding, putting unreasonable pressure on some students; (c) not reliable since people other than the lecturers are involved in it; and (d) not necessarily fair due to student biases.

In response, proponents like Bostock (2000) believe that “Student assessment of other students’ work, both formative and summative, has many potential benefits to learning for the assessor and the assessee”. He points out that peer assessment encourages student autonomy and higher order thinking skills, and although he is aware of the weaknesses of peer assessment, he trusts they can be avoided with anonymity, multiple assessors, and tutor moderation. Furthermore, Bostock points to internet technology and its potential to assist in the management of large numbers of students.

One example of an online peer review and assessment system is the Criterion Peer ReviewTM (CPR) program developed at UCLA, USA, by Orville L. Chapman and Michael A. Fiore. This program, first introduced in 1999, incorporates an integrated set of ‘digital tools’ that manage the review process, analyse student input and prepare reports for both instructor and student (Chapman, 2001). CPR assignments engage students in correcting short essays on a specific topic. After electronically submitting their respective essays, students then read and assign a score to three ‘calibration’ essays: one calibration essay is an exemplar written by an expert; the other two are documents containing misconceptions, omissions, and errors. To clarify students’ understanding of the issues and to correct any misconceptions that they might have, CPR provides extensive feedback in the assessment of the calibrations.

After the calibration exercise, CPR assesses each student’s performance, and if the performance is inadequate, the student receives further instruction. Students must repeat the calibration satisfactorily before being allowed to continue. From these practice exercises, students achieve competency as reviewers before being assigned to read and score three anonymous peer essays, as well as their own. Finally, the program generates a report, showing the reviewer’s comments and scores.

Another example of an online peer review and assessment system is OASYS. Developed at the University of Warwick, UK, by A. Bhalerao and A. Ward (2001), OASYS not only marks multiple-choice questions (MCQs) automatically, but also subsequently controls the anonymous distribution of free response answers amongst learners for peer assessment. A hybrid system combining MCQ testing with free response questions, OASYS was designed to address the inadequacies of current computer-assisted assessment systems that limit the testing format to MCQ because marking for free response answers cannot be easily automated.

Bhalerao and Ward explain that their Computer Science classes are “…increasingly using supervised practical programming sessions rather than seminars to reinforce problem solving”. As such, with 240 first year undergraduate students, approximately 1000 scripts need to be marked and commented on before the next lab session that is usually in a week’s time. Of course some of the questions seldom have unique answers, and providing timely feedback is critical.

Believing that without the human element in the assessment processes, the quality and validity of the assessment is reduced, Bhalerao and Ward proposed a “…system which exploits the efficiency of electronic document handling whilst achieving the quality of feedback that can only be given by humans”. Using anonymous electronic distribution, each script is marked multiple times, increasing the validity of the marks. A monitoring feature allows tutors to view the variability of the marks given to each script and if the variance is high, indicating disagreement between the assessors, the script is highlighted for moderation by the tutor.

So what is the value of online student peer review, evaluation and feedback? Is learning how to assess someone else’s work a practical skill for future engineers, doctors, lawyers and so forth? Considering that higher education institutions ultimately favour the implementation of learning activities that challenge learners to provide evidence of analysis, synthesis and evaluation skills necessary for effective critical thinking, and that these activities involve the sharing and communicating of the learners’ perspectives, it is therefore imperative that learners engaged in these activities receive timely formative feedback. It is important that students corroborate or dispute their constructed knowledge before misconceptions take root. However, with the high student-to-teacher ratios in many tertiary education environments of today, how well can this be done? Online student peer review, evaluation, feedback, critique and debate need to be examined more closely in order to establish rules and guidelines to maximise their potential.

References

Bhalerao, A. & Ward, A. (2001). ‘Towards Electronically Assisted Peer Assessment: A Case Study’. ALT-J, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 26–37.

Bostock, S. (2000). ‘Student Peer Assessment, Learning Technology’, Keele University, UK, [Electronic Citation], (Last accessed: 11 June 2002).

Chapman, O.L. (2001). ‘Calibrated Peer Review™, The White Paper: A Description of CPR’, [Electronic Citation], (Last accessed: 19 June 2002).

Jonassen, D.H. (1995). ‘Computers as Cognitive Tools: Learning with Technology, not from Technology.’ Journal of Computing in Higher Education, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 40–73.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. New York: Basic Books.

Wilson, B. & Lowry, M. (2000). ‘Constructivist Learning on the Web’. Learning Technologies: Reflective and Strategic Thinking. Liz Burge (Ed.), San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2001, [Electronic Citation] (Last accessed: 6 August 2002).

 
 
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Inside this issue
The Value of Online Student Peer Review, Evaluation and Feedback in Higher Education
   
ICT-supported Learning Strategies and Learner-centred Instruction
   
A Study Investigating the Impact of Web-enhanced Learning on Student Motivation