Enhancing University Students' Interaction and Learning through Formative Peer-Assessment Online

Enhancing University Students' Interaction and Learning through Formative Peer-Assessment Online

Monica Liljeström (Umeå University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-727-0.ch004


This chapter draws upon data collected from a Swedish project with the aim to implement and evaluate peer assessment/peer review in online and distance education in the context of higher education. Previous studies of peer assessment in on-campus settings are discussed with a focus on what impact these findings had on the design of the peer assessment element. Findings from a distance course with 60 students, in which peer assessment and peer assessment preparation was carried out trough asynchronous text based communication in FirstClass, are reported. Data are collected from multiple sources and analyzed with the aim to find out how peer assessment element worked in this asynchronous text based environment. The results indicate that the students’ engagement and collaborative efforts in general was high. The overall conclusion is that peer assessment could be worth exploring further as a tool to enhance student collaboration and learning in courses based on asynchronous text based communication.
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In this chapter I will share some experiences from a joint project between the Departments of Education at Umeå University, Mitthögskolan and Luleå University, Sweden. The aim of the project was to implement and explore what peer assessment in the form of peer review contributes to enhancing the students’ learning in online and distance courses. Assessment in this article is understood as described by Sadler (2008, p 2) as: “…the process of forming a judgement about the quality and extent of student achievement or performance, and therefore by inference a judgement about the learning that has taken place”. Although peer assessment/peer review has been researched by many others in on-campus environments there seem to be fewer studies on how this element works in an online and distance education setting.

Our first step towards understanding how peer assessment could be organised in this context was to design a peer assessment element based on ideas gained from previous studies of peer assessment and peer assessment preparation, which we tried to fit into our existing online and distance courses. An important key to enhancing the quality of peer assessment/peer review, as will be further presented in this chapter, seems to be the opportunity for students to share, interpret and discuss criteria in order to gain a deeper understanding of their tacit dimensions.

The common means for communication in our online and distance education courses are postings on asynchronous message boards. But how would this method of communication work in the context of peer assessment?

In this chapter I will present some of the background studies we carried out before we designed and implemented the peer assessment element in a course within a special needs teacher training programme and also report some early findings from the project.

  • Are there any signs that the interaction with other students had any impact on the students’ understanding of criteria?

  • Did the students value the peer assessment element and consider it to be of any importance for their learning process?

  • How did the students judge that the text-based communication worked for negotiating meaning? What strengths and limitations can be identified?

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