GIHE Teach Talk - Peer and Self Assessment

Having been asked to write a piece on Peer and Self Assessment for this edition of the Learning and Teaching Newsletter, imagine my glee when I discovered that Professor David Boud (in my opinion the authority on this topic - his first publication on the matter was in 1972) was coming to Griffith to talk as part of the DVC(A) sponsored Celebrating Teaching series.

Inevitably, Professor Boud's audience was large and many people on the wait list were disappointed. Fortunately I wasn't among them - and so I can relay some of the key points from his presentation.

As teachers, we know how important assessment is to students' learning in terms of achieving success and certification in their chosen field of study and also as a tool for fostering productive learning habits. Assessment should therefore be in the front of our minds in both the design and delivery of courses. The University's assessment policy recognises this too. Assessment inevitably shapes the learning that takes place, that is, what students learn and how they learn it... (Biggs, 1989; Gibbs, 1992; Ramsden, 1992).

Peer assessment
is where students are involved in the assessment of the work of other students.

Self assessment
is where students are involved in the assessment of their own work.

 

Skills in peer and self assessment are - or should be - paramount among our desired learning outcomes for graduates. Why? Because, our graduates will be entering professional fields of work, and a hallmark of professional practice is the ability to appraise one's own performance, the performance of others and to use this information for improvement. Perhaps wording this in reverse makes the point more clearly: without the ability to assess one's own performance, or that of others, how can a person function effectively as a professional?

Professor Boud also made the point, known to many if not all of us, that as the ratio of staff to students has declined it has become increasingly difficult for us to conduct enough assessment or maintain its quality (Gibbs, 1992). The response many of us have made, he argued, is to reduce the amount of assessment. However, there is a different option available to us: we can, and should, increasingly involve the students in assessment. Professor Boud argued that "students are a massively under-utilised resource at a time of resource constraints".

A picture of students taking an exam

One of the principles of assessment in higher education is the focus on achievement of outcomes (a) because universities accredit people for entry to a profession; and (b) students develop capacity for judgment by making judgments about achievements and outcomes (including lesser achievements and lesser outcomes). How else do they do it, learn it, develop the capacity but by engaging in such activity themselves? Peer and self assessment is a key component to the development of this capacity.

In order to proceed with his argument for greater student involvement in assessment, Professor Boud emphasised that the assessment of learning should be integral to the teaching and learning strategy employed, not separate from it. Current modes of assessment, Boud argued, "emphasise grading rather than learning, measurement rather than understanding, a focus on short-term rather than long-term and dependency rather than independency". Currently there is very little emphasis on the development of skills of discernment - all of which can be addressed by increasing student involvement through peer and self assessment methods.

Research literature has shown that peer assessment can be a valid and reliable method (Montgomery, 1986); it is possible to achieve close correspondence between lecturer and peer assessment (Billington, 1997; Falchikov, 1995; Freeman, 1995); it can improve the quality of student learning (Gibbs, Lucas, & Spouse, 1997); and can be received positively by students (McDowell, 1995; Mowl & Pain, 1995; Orsmond, 1996; Stanier, 1997).

A critical component to the achievement of these positive outcomes is to make the invisible part of assessment - our own judgments and skills of discernment - visible to the students. At its base, this begins with making explicit the criteria and standards for assessing the students' work. However, simply giving the students descriptions of what the criteria and standards are will not work. Instead, the students must be involved in the process of developing these criteria and standards. It is also necessary for them to obtain practice in using these criteria and standards themselves to make judgments. This means we should be actively training students to be able to do these things.

Those of you who may be interested in finding out more may start with the PowerPoint materials which Professor Boud has kindly made available to us from his visit. The URL's for these appear below. His published work in this area is also a very good place to look - particularly Boud, D. (1995). Enhancing Learning through Self Assessment. London: Kogan Page. References to other works cited throughout this article are also included, and they are a fraction of the research and resources available.

Workshop
Involving students in assessment - Self, peer and group assessment

Seminar
Rethinking assessment for learning beyond the course - The need to develop assessment skills

Professor Boud's recent publications:
http://www.education.uts.edu.au/ostaff/staff/boud_publications.html

The Toolkits produced for the Griffith Graduate Project also contain practical resources for peer and student assessment. See the CD distributed by GIHE or go to the GIHE website and follow the links to the Griffith Graduate Toolkits. (http://www.gu.edu.au/centre/gihe/)

Particularly useful information can be found in the Critical Evaluation Toolkit, and the Written Communication Toolkit.

Critical Evaluation Toolkit:

  • under Teaching Tips see Helping students assess their own, and others' writing;
  • under Handouts see Explaining grading standards

Written Communication Toolkit:

  • under Assessment see Peer Review

Dr Duncan D. Nulty
Griffith Institute for Higher Education

References

Biggs, J. (1989). Does learning about learning help teachers with teaching?
Psychology and the tertiary teacher, Supplement to the Gazette, 20 March 1989.
Billington, H. L. (1997). Poster presentations and peer assessment: novel forms of evaluation and assessment.
Journal of Biological Education, 31(3), 218-220.
Falchikov, N. (1995). Peer feedback marking: developing peer assessment.
Innovations in Education and Training International, 32(2), 175-187.
Freeman, M. (1995). Peer assessment by groups of group work.
Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 20(289-300.)
Gibbs, G. (1992). Assessing more students,
Teaching more students No. 4. Oxford: The Oxford Centre for Staff Development.
Gibbs, G., Lucas, L., & Spouse, J. (1997). The effects of class size and form of assessment on nursing students' performance, approaches to study and course perceptions.
Nurse Education Today, 17(4), 311-318.
McDowell, L. (1995). The impact of innovative assessment on student learning.
Innovations in Education and Training International, 32(4), 302-313.
Montgomery, B. M. (1986). An interactionist analysis of small group peer assessment.
Small Group Behaviour, 17(1), 19-37.
Mowl, G., & Pain, R. (1995). Using self and peer assessment to improve students' essay writing: a case study from geography.
Innovations in Education and Training International 32(4), 324-335.
Orsmond, P. M., S. and Reiling, K. (1996). The importance of marking criteria in the use of peer assessment.
Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 21(3), 239-250.
Ramsden, P. (1992).
Learning to teach in higher education. London: Routledge.
Stanier, L. (1997). Peer assessment and group work as vehicles for student empowerment: a module evaluation.
Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 21(1), 95-98.