Group, peer and self assessment
Here Rob East of the University of Glamorgan provides ideas for the innovative use of group, self and peer assessment. Rob has also contributed advice on the principles of effective assessment and definitions of formative and summative assessment to the site.
A major advantage of group assessment is that the marking burden for staff can be significantly reduced. There are also strong educational benefits, including the development of a range of important skills such as team and leadership skills, communication skills and organisational skills. In addition, teams or groups can achieve more than individuals and tackle more complex issues.
A major issue with group work, however, is seeking to ensure that a fair assessment strategy is employed:
…the most important single issue is often the tricky matter of establishing the levels of contribution of respective [team] members…
— (Race, Brown & Smith (2005) p156)
There is no single ideal way of addressing this, but there are various strategies available. It could be that the difficulties of assessment mean that all group members receive the same mark. Alternatively, strategies can be employed to provide individual marks. This can be achieved by peer assessment.
For further reading see Rust (2001), Habeshaw, Gibbs & Habeshaw (1992) chapter 5, and Race, Brown & Smith (2005) chapter 6.
Peer and self assessment
Students can perform a variety of assessment tasks in ways which both save the tutor’s time and bring educational benefits, especially the development of their own judgement skills.
— (Rust (2001) p10)
Peer assessment involves students assessing the performance of other students. This is often appropriate in assessing group work, and is particularly valuable if both product and process are assessed. Traditionally, only ‘product’ is assessed, for example an essay, an answer to a problem question or sitting an examination. The ‘process’ that leads to the student producing the product, ie in the case of an essay, the research undertaken and the preparation involved, is not directly assessed.
In group work a range of relevant skills are employed in the process of producing the group product. As well as the ability to work with others, these include self management and organisational skills, research skills, communication and intellectual skills. There is therefore a strong case to assess the performance of individual group members during the process formally, thereby providing the opportunity to produce different marks for individual members of the group.
However, a major issue is that the ‘process’ is not visible to the teacher. This is particularly so where a large number of students undertake the assessment. Whilst steps, such as requiring groups to keep a diary of meetings, can make the process more transparent to the assessor, the process involved will be most visible to other group members. Allowing students to assess the performance of other group members may therefore provide a more justifiable means of assessment. If necessary the lecturer can determine the criteria of assessment or, alternatively, negotiate these with the students.
For those starting out on peer assessment it may be appropriate to allocate only a small part of the overall assessment to the peer assessed ‘process’, perhaps 10% or 20%. This could be increased in due course as expertise and confidence improves.
Involving students in assessing their own performance can have the merit of reducing the assessment workload for academic staff. However, its main justification is an educational one, namely that the process of assessment is itself an inherently valuable learning experience.
If the enhancement of student learning is regarded as one of the main aims of assessment then self assessment plays a valuable role. However, critics base their concerns on the reliability of self assessment for certification purposes, fearing that students will, inevitably, be too lenient on themselves. This is not, however, necessarily the case, and there are a large number of approaches that can be adopted to guard against this. Boud (1995) provides comprehensive advice on the use of self and peer assessment.
One of the most obvious benefits of self assessment is that it relates very closely to the aims of personal development planning (PDP). This involves students engaging in critical self reflection, focusing on obtaining a clearer idea of the features of effective learning and thereby increasing their understanding of the subject matter being studied:
The primary objective for personal development planning is to improve the capacity of individuals to understand what and how they are learning and to review, plan and take responsibility for their own learning.
— (Quality Assurance Agency (2000) para 29)
The essential characteristic that PDP seeks to develop amongst students is reflection. This means that they become able to review and identify their own learning skills in a constructive way, becoming more effective, independent and confident learners:
PDP results in…enhanced self awareness of strengths and weaknesses and directions for change. The process is intended to help individuals understand the value added through learning that is above and beyond attainment in the subjects they have studied.
— (Quality Assurance Agency (2000) para 32)
An example of a PDP element of a formal assessment might be a requirement for each student to keep a reflective account identifying the skills and substantive knowledge they anticipated developing in undertaking the assessment. This could be followed by an appraisal (including the awarding of a formal grade) of how well these anticipated outcomes were achieved. Such an exercise provides a formal opportunity for learners to reflect on their performance in a critical way, allowing them to identify their strengths and weaknesses and, consequently, where there is a need to improve.
References and further reading
- Boud D (1995) Enhancing learning through self assessment London: Kogan Page
- Habeshaw S, Gibbs G & Habeshaw T (1992) 53 problems with large classes: making the best of a bad job Bristol: Technical and Educational Services
- Quality Assurance Agency (2000) Policy statement on a progress file for higher education Gloucester: Quality Assurance Agency
- Race P & Brown S (2001) Inspiring learning about teaching and assessment [The ILTA Guide] York: Institute of Learning and Teaching
- Race P, Brown S & Smith B (2005) (2nd ed) 500 tips on assessment London: Routledge Falmer
- Rust C (2001) A briefing on the assessment of large groups York: LTSN Generic Centre
Last Modified: 4 June 2010