Peer support for E-assessment

Peer support for E-assessment

Ok – 30 mins, one learning situation, and some (more) thoughts to capture.  The “what” this time refers to the project proposal for a personal, extended case study mentioned at the end of the previous post.  Students need to identify online services they might wish to “mash up” as part of a problem based learning assessment during a Master’s level web services course.

This has run for five plus years and seen students proposing innovate applications such as location based social media (before foursquare or location enabled facebook), aggregation of travel planning services, and integration of healthy eating and shopping with intelligent fridges.  And while the assessment may be showing its age, it has still be relevant as more online, mobile services develop.

What – face to face

Students are not expected to completely develop a whole system, but are expected to use the application development project as a way of exploring web services technology and service oriented architectures. And the first step on the journey is to consider how access to a wide range of services could be used to generate useful applications that meet the need of all stakeholders, from users to project sponsors and service providers.

In a face to face teaching environment, ideas are discussed between students, proposed to tutors and critiqued.  This offers personalised, immediate feedback as part of a dialogue and at the start of the process.  An initial one page proposal is submitted to make a case which is also reviewed by tutors with suggestions for improvement.  Crucially, the proposal is created by self-selecting groups of students working together and collaborating in any way they wish.

Apart from meeting the assessment criteria (e.g. in identifying and describing stakeholders), key issues for the earlier, (almost) formative assessment are whether:

  • the proposed application will offer a good range of functionality
  • make use of a wide range of data that needs to be married up
  • deliver identified value to users

So in an elearning context, aggregating available ranges of books from multiple online vendors (who essentially use the same data and processes) is less rewarding, compared to a mashup which will source books to buy from new or used, or allow borrowing from a range of libraries.

What – online

The same assessment task is currently done in the online version of the course, except that

  • student projects are done individually
  • the critique is done via an online forum, typically through individual learner-tutor interactions
  • the scope of the final developed software is expected to be smaller

The interesting issue is to see how to make the online experience more of a peer-assisted learning opportunity – to get fellow students reflecting on their own proposals, aand helping critique and develop other proposals.  In other words, redesigning how learners and tutors engage online.

How to change online engagement

If the question is how to move to a more visible, peer engagement of learners, the obvious, default position in motivating students by awarding credit applies.  If you comment on two other proposals, you get 5 marks – and/or a badge!

However, a more nuanced approach is possible.  Adapting ideas from general student engagement (e.g. Mark Stubbs 5 top tips these ideas could include

  • better signposting (of what the expected student role might be – top tip 1) or a more explicit invitation to learners contribute their feedback (as per Gilly Salmon’s e-tivities)
  • ensuring a balance of tutor responses to student responses and making sure the former reward contribution, promote self reflection (i.e. take the student voice seriously, tip 2)
  • clear criteria which promote clarity in assessment and therefore good feedback on suggestions (thereby building satisfaction and avoiding dissatisfaction)

But more than this, building student engagement with the learning process means

  • trusting to peer assessment (and being bold about it – tip 4)
  • not thinking we have to watch and comment all the time and if people use alternative technology or spaces not to fret (inspired by tip 5 on the tech wrap around)

And this is where my 30 mins runs out – thinking about the balance between formal assessment and control vs reflection/self assessment which is shown by the questions on Sally Jordon’s blog. And discussion on incentives links back to motivational issues linked to the surface vs deep debate.

But given time allows, here’s more on …

The role of social media

More general discussions on the use of social media raises issue of engagement as a person/student, and engagement as a learner. So while Parcell (Listen, understand, act: social media for engagement) says

The role of social media has the potential to extend beyond learning and teaching to support student engagement in the broadest sense

… I think the challenge is the other way around –thinking about how general engagement with social media can be applied to a specific learning and teaching activity.

The Welsh JISC RSC report on social media gives recommendations under the title of “20 suggestions to enhance your student engagement with social media”.  As an aside, this title raises the questions:

  • is the engagement between you and your students, or is it your students’ engagement with someone/something else.
  • is engagement with social media a means or an end

Most of the recommendations here are too general to be of use in considering how to support students in subject learning related dialogue. That said (potentially contradictory) comments about accessibility (recommendation 16) and going where the students are (recommendations 5, 14), could be taken  to support my previous preferences for VLE based comms with links out to other media and potentially unbounded groups.  Issues about socialisation and scaffolding also raise issues about how a bounded, supportive learning environment might be at odds with an openness promoted by social media use, despite actions on safeguarding.

Conclusions on e-peer support

So back to the re-engineering of assessment. My thoughts on how to change the particular online assessment activity in question would be to say:

  • yes to supporting peer assessment (or at least peer involvement in learning activities related to assessment)
  • yes to more research in to how best to do that, to avoid it becoming a box ticking exercise to gain marks
  • yes to a limited/controlled form of external social media support
  • but most importantly, yes to the keeping the VLE as the default place that tutor-learner interaction happens

As for what happens in September, watch this space. It may be the new cohort whole heartedly want to move the conversation somewhere else, and I as tutor will have to follow.






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