Instructor Resources

More than Just a Tool for Accountability: How to Optimize Peer Evaluation

March 1, 2022
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Implementing peer evaluation for group projects seems like a no-brainer, yet many instructors seem to miss the mark on how they can utilize it to improve collaborative learning. Peer assessment is often treated as an afterthought, with feedback unreleased to students as it is only employed as a tool for accountability. Peer review is also riddled with inconsistency and extremities, raising questions about the true dynamic of the group.

It’s amiss to say that the usual approach to peer evaluation is perfect. However, there are ways for instructors to build a better system that benefits everyone in the learning environment. Let’s go through how we can make peer assessment more than just a tool for accountability.

Make sure students are on the same page

Having worked on the teaching team, an issue that constantly stood out to me is inconsistent evaluation among members of the same team. A student can give everyone a 5/5, while others hand out the complete opposite score of 0/5. These extremities are common in peer evaluation when an important component is missing: a well-defined rubric.

Person working on rubric grading
A rubric is essential for fair peer assessment.

It is important to keep in mind that not all students have the same definition of what warrants a 5/5 score. Some students might be happy with teammates doing what they were asked to do, while others expect their peers to go above and beyond. A rubric is essential in bridging these gaps, with each criterion clearly defined to make sure everyone is on the same page.

For example, instead of giving a vague criterion like “Quality of work”, instructors can define that a score of 5 means “Excellent quality of work with well-researched evidence, requiring little to no edits from teammates”. This will allow students to adjust their judgments accordingly and level the playing field for all.

Anonymous feedback is better than no feedback

There were many classes where I thought my teammates and I would benefit from receiving feedback from each other. However, a surprising number of instructors did not release the evaluation form to us. When this happens, students could not help but to feel like their feedback is being undermined and unappreciated. Peer evaluation is a chance for students to not only reflect on their teammates’ work but also learn how their actions are perceived by other team members.

Two male students having a conversation
Students need to learn how to give appreciative and critical feedback.

Understandably, there is a concern about anonymity, that feedback might be dishonest if released to other students. However, instructors can help students overcome this by providing sample language to help students form their explanations. Students’ names can also be removed from their feedback so that they feel more comfortable giving an honest explanation to their teammates. Anonymous peer review will encourage students to have a more positive attitude to the evaluation process and provide helpful critical feedback.

Consider the when, and even how many times

Peer evaluation is usually conducted at the end of the semester when the project has finished. While this is the system you see in most classrooms, it is also quite unproductive and wasteful: students receive feedback at the end of the semester, when all the conflict and stress is over, instead of during the semester when they need it the most.

Two women arguing at an office space
Mid-semester evaluation can resolve so many headaches for students.

The peer evaluation system is a perfect setup to facilitate difficult conversations about teamwork — don’t waste it by only using it at the end of the project when students no longer talk to each other. Even one extra evaluation halfway can help students learn what works and what doesn’t and adjust their workflow accordingly. Make sure that the final evaluation is released while the project is still fresh in students’ minds to help them best reflect on the experience.

At Ensightful, we are all about resolving collaboration pain points for students and instructors. To find out more about our peer evaluation function, check out this video here: