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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Peer Assessment at the University of Bergen

By Jessica Gramp, on 9 August 2011

University of Bergen

University of Bergen

Peer assessment of essay papers is a technique widely used at the University of Bergen within the Humanities faculties as well as others.

A web-based system, called Kark, was launched in 1994 and is now used to facilitate the peer assessment process in many classes.

Among the students using the system are those who study completely online, using web conferencing systems to “meet” with group members, as well as those who use the peer assessment technology to supplement their face to face tutorial time.


History of peer assessment at the University of Bergen

Students at the University of Bergen have been peer assessing each other’s work for many years. Before Kark, peer assessment was conducted in face-to-face seminars. At these seminars, the author  would present their essay, two students would provide an analyse of it in front of the class and the tutor would then comment. The author would then have a chance to respond to the feedback.

A few days before the tutorial administrative staff would print copies of the essay for each of the members of the group (consisting of around 20 students) and each student would collect the paper from the office. This would give the teacher and the two students responsible for providing feedback time to review the work. Face to face peer assessment tutorials are still used by Masters students at the University of Bergen, but for undergraduate students this process has been moved completely online.


How the peer assessment system works

Kark is a simple, intuitive system for capturing in-text feedback from students and teachers. When an essay is uploaded to the system it’s converted into a web document and edit buttons are inserted beneath every paragraph for commenting upon the work. Kark also handles assigning which students will comment upon another student’s work.

Students are expected to log in and leave constructive feedback for the author. Each student’s work will be commented upon by 2 or 3 others. As well as marking the original work, the tutor also marks the feedback, which forms a small part of each student’s grade.Without this incentive some students would be unlikely to participate. Comments can in turn be commented upon and the teacher will either support or challenge the feedback left by other students.

Teachers can add private notes (which are only viewable by that teacher) to aid in their end-of-term marking of both comments and the original paper.


Pros and cons of online peer assessment

Providing comments on every student’s essay can take teachers a lot of time. How long it takes depends on the writing style of the teacher. Someone who usually writes verbose comments can work on making their feedback more concise. Comment banks (available in some online marking systems) can make it faster to provide feedback on common issues.

Asking students to first comment on each other’s work, can save the teacher a lot of time. Student comments often provide a stimulus for the teacher’s response. If students have already identified a problem in a part of the essay the teacher can simply agree, or if they have said something the teacher doesn’t  agree with or have missed making an important point, the staff member is prompted to write a response.

While students don’t learn from the feedback they receive unless they apply it to their future work, the students writing the comments learn a lot from analysing essays written by their peer’s. Students at the University of Bergen are encouraged to view commented-upon essays produced in other groups as well, since each teacher has unique strengths and this will be reflected in their comments, so students learn more this way.

Perhaps a way to ensure that students who receive comments on their work learn from this process, is to add a further step in the assessment process, where students reflect upon the feedback they receive for their work. One way this could be done is using a blog to record the lessons they have learnt from the feedback and what they plan to do differently when writing their next essay.


A different model of peer assessment

The peer assessment model described above, where students comment on one or two students’ work, is a typical example of peer assessment in a seminar group.

Another way peer assessment can be used is to ask students to submit work produced as a small group.

For each submission a member of the group is nominated the editor, which means they will receive the grades for the assignment. Each group member takes a turn at being the editor, so each person will receive a grade for a piece of group work. The editing process goes through several cycles as described here:

  1. The group discusses the assignment together and decides on the points to include
  2. The editor writes the assignment
  3. The group members comment upon the first draft of the assignment
  4. The editor edits the work, based on the group feedback, to produce a second draft
  5. The teacher comments upon the work
  6. The editor edits the work, based on the teacher’s feedback, to produce the final piece of work
  7. The teacher marks this final assignment

This model enables students to work together, without the problems commonly associated with group work where some members do the majority of the work, but those who contribute little still get the credit. Students are motivated to provide critical feedback, so they receive feedback themselves when it’s their turn to edit a group assignment.

This model works successfully for some distance education courses currently being taught at the University of Bergen. Students attend an online group meeting once a week for two hours using the Elluminate web conferencing system, which allows the teacher to pop in and out of the group sessions to observe and provide guidance.

If you work at UCL and are interested in trialling the use of Elluminate with your own students please contact Jessica in the Learning Technology Support Service.

A member of UCL’s Learning Technology Support Service visited the University of Bergen for one week as part of the Erasmus Staff Mobility programme. Meetings with several academic and research staff at the University of Bergen provided insight into their use of peer assessment.

Image: http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Bergen-University-modf.jpg

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