Peer Evaluation as an Active Learning Technique

Article excerpt

An action research was carried out during the fall 2003 term. Nineteen students in an Applied Research in Education course at Fayetteville State University, North Carolina were participants in the study to determine the impact of using peers in the evaluation of a partial research paper. The answers to three questions were sought: 1) To what extent is peer feedback meaningful and effective: 2) What lessons (if any) do the peer-evaluators learn from the activity: and 3) To what extent does the peer evaluation process result in better research papers for student researchers and peer evaluators? Results showed that all of the student researchers agreed that the feedback was helpful, constructive, clear and understandable. Further, results indicated that the student researchers realized that they need to include more substantial information in the review of the literature section and that the activity was helpful in the final paper revision process. Overall, the quality of the papers from this class was significantly higher than papers collected from previous classes.

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In my introductory research course the focus is more on getting my students to learn the process than getting them to master the process. Learning the terminology, being competent in statistical computations, understanding how to analyze research and other basic components of educational research are essential knowledge for the student.

Evaluation is a crucial part of the learning process (Barrett, 1986). Consequently, feedback and evaluation on a student's progress are important both to the student and to the faculty. Students need information on their progress to make improvements in their work. Although a faculty evaluation of student work is perhaps the most common type of evaluation, the use of peers in the evaluation process may be just as effective in their academic growth.

Previous evaluations of students' work involved me, as the instructor, in reviewing drafts of papers, inserting comments in red ink, and returning the papers to the students. In some instances, students expressed how the editing of their papers was intimidating and damaging to their self-esteem. Discovering another way to effectively evaluate student research while at the same time making the evaluation process a learning activity would eliminate the problems associated with editing, such as the loss in self-esteem and increase the involvement of the class in the process.

Peer Evaluation

According to Boyd (1989), evaluation can be used to "provide constructive criticism and suggestions to improve weak areas and amplify strengths." (p.2). Two types of evaluation exist--formative and summative. Formative evaluation involves giving feedback that is focused on changing processes as they are happening. On the other hand, summative evaluation occurs at the end of the process and focuses on judging the quality of the outcome (Boulmetis and Dutwin, 2000).

Using peers has been found to be an effective addition to the evaluation process. Formative peer evaluations allow peers to work collaboratively to assess each others' work and assist one another in efforts to strengthen research. Working with one's peers allows interchange of ideas and methodologies resulting in a more refined product (Powell, 1992; Sapin-Piane, 1993). Studies by Saavedra and Kwun (1993) found that "on the whole, both field and laboratory studies indicate that peer assessment is a valid and reliable evaluation procedure." (p. 450)

Lisk (2000) argued that this process of cooperative learning must include a number of essential conditions to be successful in learning environments. The conditions include: (a) a clear set of learning objectives that are accepted by all students, (b) positive interdependence, (c) positive social interaction behavior and attitudes, and (d) individual accountability.

Portfolio assessment, self-assessment and peer-review are forms of assessment that encourage students to engage continuously and foster a deeper approach to learning. …