Education Focussed perspective on Peer Assessments

| 16 Mar 2020

Presenters at a recent Lunch & Learn - Dr Khatamianfar, Dr Fisher and Dr Copper - sit down with us to share their advice on running peer assessments. 

In recent years, there has been considerable research into peer assessment and its effectiveness in student engagement. Often used as a collaborative learning tool, peer assessment encourages students to evaluate each other’s work through critique and feedback.

So, could peer assessment be viewed as a natural extension of student-centred learning? Three Education Focussed academics share their perspectives on the mechanisms through which peer assessment can contribute to student engagement.

Tell us about your experience in running peer assessments.

Dr Arash Khatamianfar (Lecturer in the School of Electrical Engineering & Telecommunications) – Back when I was an Associate Lecturer, I was asked to take over the running of a full course from another lecturer for 500 students. An inherited legacy of that course was a peer assessment task – students had to redo a mid-term exam, reflect on their work and also provide feedback on three other student submissions.

Dr Ruth Fisher (Lecturer in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering) – My experience with peer assessment occurred last year when I had to coordinate and teach a course for a large cohort - 160 students, comprising undergrad and postgrad students. A big assignment for this course was student presentation of a journal paper on the topic of sustainability. I wanted the students to get some feedback before submission to ensure they were on topic and had chosen appropriate journal papers.

What made this particularly challenging was that I had to attend a workshop in Sweden the same week the review session was going to take place. This meant that I needed the review session to run in a way that wouldn’t require much supervision or paperwork. That’s when I decided to package it in the form of a formative peer assessment task – students would work in groups to give presentations and provide peer feedback.

Dr Jessie Copper (Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Photovoltaic & Renewable Energy Engineering) – I trialled peer assessments for the first time last year and had an interesting experience. Typically, my students were starting on their major assignment too late and were cramming a lot of preparation in a short timeframe. So, I introduced a peer assessment activity which would directly feed into their major assignment. The students would review and mark the work done by their fellow students. I provided an exemplar submission and used Moodle workshop for my peer assessment activity.

What were the key lessons you took away from your experience with peer assessments? What would you advise your fellow academics about this?

Dr Arash Khatamianfar – I found the experience of running peer assessments quite valuable to me as an educator. I learn that it is important to have robust, comprehensive instructions for students on how to give professional feedback. We must prepare the students on how to engage with peer assessments and give them proper criteria they can mark to.

At the same time, we should also consider the logistics behind running peer assessment for large classes. Peer assessment requires time to mature, careful design and implementation for it to be an effective tool for formative or summative assessment processes. It helps to have faculty support in this regard. If I had continued teaching that particular course – and continuity really matters here – I would’ve fine-tuned the assignment to make it more accessible and effective. I would have probably not relied on Moodle Workshop as much and explored other tools.

Dr Ruth Fisher – In peer assessments, the onus isn’t about the marks. It’s really about students learning how to give quality feedback and improving their own work. And just as Arash mentioned, to give effective and valid feedback, students need to be equipped with clear guidelines and training on assessment criteria, scoring rules, exemplars etc.

I was very fortunate to have the Engineering Education team help me out with Microsoft Flow and MS Forms, which I also saw demonstrated by a colleague in the Faculty of Medicine. So, a collaborative and generous exchange of ideas between academics goes a long way in making peer assessments successful.

Dr Jessie Copper – If done well and in a structured manner, peer assessment activities have value. I found that peer assessment was useful to reinforce the simple things which I find students often overlook. Initially, I had planned to use peer assessment as a formative task, but decided to assign a low weighted grade, 5%, to the activity. Feedback from students during a mid-term check-in indicated that they would not have participated if the activity wasn’t graded.

Can teachers benefit from learning about peer assessments?

Dr Arash Khatamianfar – Well, the literature does support peer assessment. Academics can benefit from learning about running it well, but we must be mindful that context is key – peer assessment can’t be transplanted from one course to another. It needs to match your needs as an educator and the needs of your students.

A more in-depth literature review of the efficacy of peer assessments, possibly supported by comparative student surveys, can help us avoid making common mistakes.

I feel it is critical to inculcate techniques in students that develop their capacity to reflect on and evaluate their own learning and give constructive feedback. Peer assessment empowered my students to work cooperatively, think critically and develop interpersonal skills.

Dr Ruth Fisher – As an educator, peer assessment is helpful in managing a large cohort. I could manage my course remotely (from Sweden) and my students became more active agents in their learning. Peer assessment helped my students to connect and collaborate with each other through knowledge diffusion and exchange of ideas. 

It also expanded my network. By running the peer assessment, I had the opportunity to work with William Armour, Danny Tan (from the Education Developer team) and Ilker Cokcetin (from the Education Technology team) as well as learn a little bit about Microsoft Flow.

Dr Jessie Copper – As Arash indicated, we need to think about the context. Peer assessment won’t be applicable to all courses or situations, but learning about peer assessment as a teacher has provided me with another tool I can use to assist student learning. It also helped me engage with international students. The experience has encouraged me to reflect on my teaching approaches and motivated me to become a better educator.


Dr Khatamianfar, Dr Fisher and Dr Copper discussed peer assessment in-depth at our monthly Lunch & Learn session on 23 March. If you have been looking to improve your course with better student learning but have not had the time to research into this. Please check out their presentations here.


Profile Photo - Arash Khatamianfar

Dr Arash Khatamianfar is an Education Focussed academic in the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications. He is quite keen in using new and innovative teaching technologies and pedagogies and adapting them for the engineering education to improve students learning experience, in particular, in the area of Control Systems and Robotics. Since he joined UNSW in 2018, he has been nominated twice for the Faculty of Engineering Student's Choice Teaching Awards.


Profile Photo - Ruth Fisher

Dr Ruth Fisher is an Education Focussed Lecturer in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She is of the firm belief that teaching Environmental Engineering offers a great opportunity to develop the skills of future environmental engineers to enhance the quality of life for humanity in a sustainable way. As part of her teaching, she believes that students need feedback in numerous forms, particularly formative so they feel empowered and in control of their own learning.

Profile Photo - Jessie Copper

Dr Jessie Copper is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE) at UNSW, with research interests in solar resource, photovoltaic and building system performance modelling and analysis. Dr Copper was the lead author on the Australian Guidelines for Monitoring and Analysis of PV Systems, developed the algorithms for the APVI’s Solar Potential Tool for spatial estimation of PV performance. She has published several peer reviewed papers on uncertainty in Australian irradiance data, performance of Australian PV systems and algorithms for improved PV system modelling. Dr Copper also developed and currently teaches a postgraduate course on renewable energy system modelling and analysis within SPREE at UNSW.


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