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Better teams from peer assessment and feedback

How does peer assessment and feedback contribute to better team results and raised employability?

Our three-stage model of the feedback process suggests four factors are in play: Academic achievement (Team and personal results), Perceptions of fairness, and employability.

Peer feedback improves group projects

Stage 1 Traditional group project
In the traditional group project, all team members usually share the same team result, allocated by the teacher to the team’s outputs such as a report or presentation. However, there is often moderate to poor team dynamics, where one team member is a social loafer and/or one team member overachieves or dominates the contribution to the team result. Consequently, we find that teachers suspect that more than half of students dislike group projects. One reason is that students feel the outcomes, measured by the results they gain for their contribution, are not obviously fair.

Stage 2 Summative team peer assessment only
In peer assessment, a student’s personal result is adjusted above or below the team result in proportion to a peer rating of their contribution assessed by other team members. According to Gibbs, students are less likely to free-ride on group projects if their contributions will be considered in determining grades (Gibbs, 2009 in Sprague, Wilson, & McKenzie, 2019, p. 2). Consequently, introducing peer assessment to group projects will have a small positive impact on the team result and average personal result awarded to team members when compared with the traditional group project.
However, whilst the sense of fairness amongst most team members is increased when peer assessment is used, there may be a sense of shock or dismay for a student who is rated poorly. Compared with Stage 1, such students are at risk of failing the assignment. Consequently, their feeling of fairness is diminished if they have not had the opportunity to learn – well before the end of the group project – that their contribution was inadequately regarded by their teammates. Furthermore, such a situation could give grounds for an appeal against the fail grade awarded.

Stage 3: Peer assessment with formative feedback
We find the most productive outcomes on group projects surface when formative peer assessment is provided to a team early in their group work combined with formative feedback and summative assessment following the group work conclusion. We find that those team members receiving average peer ratings strive to ‘pull their socks up’ and apply more effort. Receiving developmental feedback through the formative peer assessment process helps these students focus on applying their relative strengths towards the team’s objective, whilst working to manage their weaker areas. Team members also act more proactively to help each other contribute, and ‘check in’ to gain assurance that their contributions are on the right track. Whilst these processes may also apply to the most weakly-rated team member(s), the formative peer assessment certainly gives them fair warning that they are at risk of failing the assignment if their behaviours are not improved significantly. A grounds for appeal against a fail grade is much diminished!

The impact on employability
Most importantly, informative feedback early in a group project provides the opportunity for team members to learn and apply important teamwork competencies through the remainder of the project, such as communication, leadership, initiative-taking, chairing meetings, and helping others contribute. These are all competencies regarded as absolutely essential for new graduates according to research by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). The group becomes a learning team. Furthermore, the teamwork competencies help each student improve the team dynamics and academic results achieved in their future studies.

Author

Dr Peter MELLALIEU is Chief Technologist at Peer Assess Pro Ltd. He uses peer assessment as part of his team-based learning approach to teaching sustainable management, innovation and entrepreneurship, organisation development, operations management, and strategic thinking.

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1 Sprague, M., Wilson, K. F., & McKenzie, K. S. (2019). Evaluating the quality of peer and self evaluations as measures of student contributions to group projects. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(5), 1061–1074. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2019.1615417

2 (2018) Employers Rate the Essential Need of the Career Readiness Competencies. Job Outlook 2019. Figure 42, p. 33. Bethlehem, PA. Nationali Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/

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