As class sizes increase, methods of assessments shift from costly traditional approaches (e.g. expert-graded writing assignments) to more economic and logistically feasible methods (e.g. multiple-choice testing, computer-automated scoring, or peer assessment). While each method of assessment has its merits, it is peer assessment in particular, especially when made available online through a Web-based interface (e.g. our peerScholar system), that has the potential to allow a reintegration of open-ended writing assignments in any size class – and in a manner that is pedagogically superior to traditional approaches. Many benefits are associated with peer assessment, but it was the concerns that prompted two experimental studies (n = 120 in each) using peerScholar to examine mark agreement between and within groups of expert (graduate teaching assistants) and peer (undergraduate students) markers. Overall, using peerScholar accomplished the goal of returning writing into a large class, while producing grades similar in level and rank order as those provided by expert graders, especially when a grade accountability feature was used.
Participation in a peerScholar assignment can facilitate deep learning. Our research studies highlight many benefits, including those related to 21st Century skills.
peerScholar develops critical thinking
Making comparisons is a powerful cognitive process. When students consider what makes one piece stronger than another, they enhance understanding. After students critically read, view, or listen to the work of others, they apply their new insights to their own work.
peerScholar promotes communication
The peer-assessment phase of a peerScholar assignment puts into practice the 21st century skill of communication. And because peerScholar operates in an online environment, students can give and receive feedback anytime, anywhere, and in the safety of anonymity.
peerScholar enhances creative thinking
Regardless of the medium used – writing, music, video or art – peerScholar allows each student to use their creative thinking skills when creating and assessing assignments.
peerScholar can promote collaboration
peerScholar provides students with timely feedback, from multiple perspectives, even when the instructor is unable to respond quickly. This online collaboration often continues in the classroom as group discussions or debates, increasing student engagement and participation.
peerScholar develops general technology skills
peerScholar can help foster various technology related skills, such as saving documents, downloading attachments, using knowledge-base websites, etc. Participating in just one peerScholar activity exposes student to a wide range of these concepts and skills.