Pen & Paper

Peer Assessment

12 May 2014

Many MOOCs make use of peer assessment as a grading/learning tool. It tends to generate a great deal of complaints as students feel that they have been unfairly graded by their peers. Some complain that the feedback from their peers are of no help at all. This course that I’m taking is no exception. Dissatifaction aplenty after we completed Phase I of a writing project and the peer assessment. One of my colleagues summed up a list of valid reasons why students dislike peer grading.

Peer assessment will never work as a grading tool in a MOOC for the simple reason that participants are not in the same peer group - Carrie is a grad student doing instructional design and I’m learning elementary English. We are not “peers” but we are taking the same course. An entrance examination may partially address the problem. A well designed rubric (contents + weighting) will help. Neither will provide a full remedy. I’m less interested in what the students like or dislike. The question is how to make peer assessment work as an effective grading tool, whether for an online course or not. The reasons listed in Carrie’s original post is equally applicable in a traditional classroom of 12 students.

As a learning tool, peer assessment should work both ways. A student in elementary English will certainly benefit from Carrie’s comment on his/her draft and Carrie can learn how best to guide a student in his/her pursuit.

I believe that assessment is always a critical issue in designing a course. At a more fundamental level, the debate on formative/summative assessment, their merits and demerits is far from being conclusive. Setting our priority may enable an easier decision. I tend to put learning before grading; peer assessment always has its important role to play as its pros outweigh the cons.

What I’d like to see in MOOC and particularly the application of technology in an educational setting is to cater for the needs of 60,000 different “sweet spots”. Enabling the more able students to go further while being careful not to leave behind the rest is already a huge challenge in a traditional classroom of 12. We may be tempted to throw in the towel with a class of 60,000. Technology, however, can make classroom differentiation a reality. Classroom differentiation, in my mind, means 12 lesson plans for 12 students, 60,000 lesson plan for 60,000 students. It is entirely feasible to do so with the help of today’s technology but I have yet to see any evidence of it being implemented, not even a trial implementation.