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Instructors can offer students a far richer and more active learning experience by having them learn from each other. Instructors often find this easiest to do in the classroom, but it can also be done in online and hybrid courses. Active online learning happens when students are challenged with formative, project-based assignments and students engage with each other in the assessment of their peers.

Research is clear that students learn as much or more in the review of their peers as in doing the task itself. Learners internalize the standards expected of themselves when reviewing their classmates against those same standards. The formative, project-based work they do fills e-portfolios with writing, presentations, videos, and other content-rich work that future employers want to see. Peer learning also allows students to engage with each other in meaningful ways, even if they can’t meet on campus. 

Scaling deeper learning, building soft skills

Benefits abound for instructors, too. They're able to assign and manage the evidence-based assessment that's not only a better measure of content knowledge, but also naturally builds the critical thinking and other soft skills necessary for success both inside and outside the classroom. Nurturing collaboration among students allows an instructor to become a facilitator of learning, freeing time to more meaningfully engage with students and focus attention on learners who need the most support.

Gaining student buy-in

When students view peer assessment as valid and reliable, they strongly prefer active collaboration to more passive assessment models like multiple-choice. At Peerceptiv, there’s more than a dozen years of research validating peer assessment outcomes and learning how best to prepare students to participate.  Four keys for success:

1. Explain the benefits: When students see how peer review benefits them, they appreciate the process. Introduce peer review by focusing on the benefits students receive, including more feedback, a chance to see multiple assignments, and more engagement with their classmates. With the right preparation, students will want to give helpful feedback because they know they're learning by doing.

2. Maintain anonymity: Eliminate bias by making peer collaboration double-blind where possible. Anonymity is especially helpful with students who may lack confidence; it’s with these students that Peerceptiv regularly sees the biggest learning gains.

3. Rubrics matter: Well-designed, student-facing rubrics offer students an objective standard to evaluate the work of their peers. When students have a clear understanding of the standards expected of their classmates, they understand them better for themselves.

4. Mix it up: Many instructors only use peer assessment for writing projects assigned to individual students. Courses with the best outcomes have students uploading presentations, videos, and other submissions so students are almost continuously interacting with each other, blurring the line between assessment and engagement. Peerceptiv is also seeing more and more group peer-assessment assignments, ideal for building teamwork and collaboration skills.

Peer assessment could be especially valuable this fall, with COVID-19 uncertainty leading to so many online courses, both planned and unplanned. Active engagement through peer assessment offers the best opportunity for successful outcomes. Please contact [email protected] to find out more about how to use peer assessment to drive meaningful discussion and engagement between students.

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“...the students love it, and are both more thoughtful about their own writing (because peers will read it) and becoming stronger readers/reviewers of the work of others, able to apply review lessons learned to their own writing.”

–Derede Arthur, UC Santa Cruz Writing Program

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