Using peer feedback with undergraduate learners within the School of Education

Dr Charlotte Dean, Lecturer/Researcher in Education

With a background in youth work and informal education, my approach to learning is, like many of my colleagues within the School of Education (and beyond!) grounded in collaborative, participative principles rooted in social justice and democracy. In my teaching practice I was finding that this collaborative approach to learning was being parked to one side when it came to that midway point in the module when the students were starting to put together their ideas and potential structures for their forthcoming assessments and were requiring feedback on their plans.

Rather than sitting down with each student individually to impart my own reflections on their assessment plans, I felt that the process could be enhanced through incorporating a peer feedback cycle within the module which would capitalise on the wealth of experience and knowledge that the group as a whole possessed.

Each student presented to a small group, their chosen topic along with a brief outline of how they planned to structure their assignment in relation to the assessment task. Peer feedback then ensued in the form of a short, structured discussion whereby the group reflected on whether the plan presented to them met the assessment criteria appropriately. The main points from each discussion was recorded through using Google Docs as these could be annotated in real time by several contributors (though in future, I would plan to utilise the virtual learning environment platform of Canvas as some students found gaining access to the Google Doc after the session was problematic). One student from each group then volunteered to carry out a live typing up of the feedback discussions. This was displayed on the large screen in the lecture theatre and then the main points were collated and any common areas of particularly good practice and/or areas for development were discussed as a group with the option for individual tutorial sessions as a follow-up if required.

"I really loved the discussions about our assessment plans – getting other people’s opinions helped me understand more."

This continuous feedback loop enabled the students to create a self-directed, supportive and collaborative approach to peer feedback which we then used as a method of reflecting on other learning activities within the module, an example is where the students chose themselves to provide peer feedback on their reflections on presentations made by guest speakers. Along with the MEQ process of eliciting feedback from students at the end of each module, I also use the online audience engagement platform, Mentimeter, in my practice to ascertain feedback on specific elements of each module, which I can then refer back to in planning for my next module. Results from this showed that an area that the students had found particularly effective was that incorporating the peer feedback approach had led to them developing relationships with members of the group that they had not previously engaged with despite spending almost two years together in various modules.

"I really valued talking to other people about what their areas of interest and experience were, there were some people I had never really spoken to before, particularly the American students and it was so interesting to hear how the education system worked in their different states."

This discursive, collaborative approach to planning the student’s responses to the assessment task really resonated with my own style of educating. Learning, to me, needs to be a creative, communication driven process which is led less by one person (i.e. the ‘lecturer’) and more by the community of learners who are actively engaged in the process.

"The democratic/relaxed style of doing the assessment feedback gave me more of a chance to be creative."

In summary, whilst I do not negate the need for the lecturer to be able to provide the space for each and any student requiring one to one support in their learning, I found that the adoption of a peer feedback approach, particularly in relation to the assessment of individual students essay/assignment plans, served to build the skills of reflection, creativity and criticality within the group. Perhaps more importantly, it served also to create a culture of support and understanding within the peer group which would serve to strengthen and inspire the learning experience of each.

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