Professional bodies, such as engineering and medical specialists, have long relied on peer review for evaluation and self-regulation among colleagues within a specific field. And more and more students are becoming familiar with peer evaluation due to its increasing use by colleges, including Dartmouth College and Davidson, as part of the admissions process.

Indeed, peer review has a long history within the academic community and has been commonly performed on paper. Did you ever exchange papers with the student next to you in a college writing class?

Now, with the rapidly growing popularity of (MOOCs) and online education in general, peer evaluation by students is coming to the fore as a way to assess student performance in online courses. (Teachers, too, are often evaluated through peer review for their .)

these days? What are some of the benefits of this emerging form of evaluation? And what are some of the issues and challenges?

Peer evaluation usually involves having students review the written work of other students and make suggestions for improvement. While it can take place in a classroom, outside of class or online, online tools can greatly streamline and simplify the process, while encouraging more student involvement.

Some popular applications for peer evaluation include reviewing other students’ designs, artwork and writing projects. It’s a good idea to provide students with some training on how to evaluate their peers effectively.

Especially in big, introductory courses, instructors increasingly use peer evaluation as a way to challenge students to improve their critical thinking, integrate disparate viewpoints, and communicate their ideas coherently. In this context, online peer review offers the advantage of not restricting the evaluation process to a specific time and place, allowing it to be more flexible – even if the classroom environment itself is traditional, rather than online.

Peer evaluation can take some of the grading load off the instructor (and TAs, as I remember only too well from being one), so more frequent and varied tasks can be assigned. This also allows for more frequent (and often faster) feedback, because the instructor doesn’t have to grade all the work. And stronger students can organically support struggling peers at the same time.

The more important peer evaluation is to assignment of a final grade in a course, the more the instructor has a “coaching” or “supervisory” role, where the focus is on designing assignments and supporting participation rather than on lecturing or enforcing guidelines.

What are some of the challenges with student peer evaluation? Among the most commonly cited are:

  • Cheating or the potential for cheating, especially when assignments are posted on publically accessible webpages. is a particular concern.
  • Harsh language, offensive comments or otherwise inappropriate reviewing (e.g., “This paragraph sucks.”).
  • Late assignments. Peer evaluation reduces the role of teacher as enforcer, so it needs to be clear that “the class” or “fellow students” expect timely assignment submission.
  • Too much extra work for students. A viable method needs to be in place to coordinate reviews so that everybody does about the same amount of reviewing, and also has their own work reviewed.
  • Technical difficulties. Not everyone is equally comfortable with online evaluation systems or with technology in general.

These challenges potentially need to be dealt with in any peer evaluation setting. In MOOCs and other online courses, there are further peer evaluation concerns, as well as emerging trends to make peer evaluation in online courses especially beneficial for students and teachers both.

Have you participated as either a learner or an instructor in online peer evaluation? Please comment and share your experiences.

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Featured image courtesy of Philosophy of Science Portal.

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