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MIHE Blog News, views and insights from Macmillan International Higher Education

Why We Need To Embed Peer Feedback Into Teaching

by Rebecca Westrup 23rd April 2019

Rebecca Westrup shares the benefts of an under-used approach to feedback in the classroom.

It’s different at university. I’m not really sure how yet, but I know you have to be more independent than at school and get on with things yourself."
This is what a first year student said to me during a session about writing an essay at the beginning of the academic year. It’s something I hear quite frequently from students. The experiences of my students are not unique and many students encounter concerns and difficulties when trying to understand what’s expected of them at university (O’Donovan, 2017). That’s why it’s important to embed opportunities for peer feedback about writing skills into our teaching.

What is peer feedback?

Peer feedback, the conversation that students have with each other about assessment and how work will be marked, helps students to learn about the rules, conventions and requirements for assessments at university. It’s the detailed critical comment about a (usually formative) piece of work, the ‘so does this mean this?’ and the creation and trialling of ideas in pairs and small groups. As well as giving students ideas about the ways in which we assess them, peer feedback enhances learning and can help students to feel more confident with assessment processes (Langan and Wheater, 2003).
Students working together
Image by Mimi Thian. Available on Unsplash via the Unsplash License

How does it help students?

Giving peer feedback to each other requires students to take an active and critical role in their own learning. Students need to understand the rules and requirements of assessment to be able to effectively give other students feedback. They also need to learn how to do this in a critical and importantly constructive way - a way that will help their peers know how to action the feedback. Or if there is some uncertainty about the task, through dialogue with each other they can reflect and create understanding and meaning of different writing tasks, e.g. how to draw on literature to support critical analysis.

Are there any other benefits?

Peer feedback also improves students’ employability. The ability to give and receive feedback is something that employers are always looking for in graduates (JISC, 2016). It’s valuable for both enhancing students’ learning during their studies and ensuring they become critical and reflective graduate employees of the future. It helps them to become independent lifelong learners and employees.

How can peer feedback be embedded in teaching?

One of the main ways lecturers and tutors can support students in developing knowledge and understanding of how they will be assessed is through opportunities for peer feedback in our teaching sessions (Liu and Carless, 2007).

Using anonymous exemplars of previous students’ writing is one way that peer feedback can be embedded into teaching sessions: this will allow students to be honest when giving feedback and it won’t hurt the feelings of anyone in the current class. With guidance about the assignment task and assessment criteria students can ‘mark’ the work and give some feedback. Once students have an understanding of what’s expected of them and how to give honest and critically constructive feedback that will help the peer recipient, they can act as ‘critical friends’ and give each other feedback. Students can be encouraged to submit assignments to the class anonymously, mark each other’s work and give feedback to each other about them. Giving feedback to others can also help students to self-assess and be critical of their own work (Boud, 1990). When students give each other feedback they can be confident in their own ability in understanding the task and how they can feedforward into other assignments.

When universities use peer feedback in their teaching, not only do they help students become independent learners, but also prepare them for a more independent life beyond the seminar room.
Featured image: Photo by NESA by Makers. Available on Unsplash via the Unsplash license.