When we talk about feedback in education there tends to be an assumption that the feedback is coming from a teacher and going to a student. Or, when feedback does occur in a peer-to-peer context, it is part of a formal assessment designed to ascertain the level of contribution by individual students to a group assignment.
But peer-to-peer feedback is a broad descriptor that can be applied to many interactions between students and is integral to learning as understood through a constructivist lens. Many theories of learning and pedagogy incorporate feedback between peers, including Stephen Brookfield’s framing of discussion as a key component of learning and the connectivist understanding of the classroom as a complex networked space. More recent literature and research has expanded upon these ideas, offering some further insight into how peer-to-peer feedback can impact upon learning.
Positive (peer) feedback
Feedback from a peer can occur much quicker than direct feedback from a tutor who is trying to assist 25 other students, and can occur in context, at the moment of encountering materials and concepts. (Ladyshewsky, 2013)
Benefits of giving
Students that feedback learn as much or more through the process than the receiver of feedback because they must reorganise and explain the material in simple terms to a peer (Huisman, Saab, van Driel, van den Broek, 2018, Ladyshewsky, 2013). Students giving feedback also gain experience in problem detection, identifying writing issues, evaluative skills, and build a deeper engagement with the content and structure of the academic program (Sadler, 2010).
Less power discrepancy
Peer feedback, outside of a summative assessment, can enable a safe space for students to resolve discrepancies or correct misunderstandings outside of the power relationship of the teacher and student. (Ladyshewsky, 2013)
Key workplace skill
I would also add that the ability to give feedback in a way that is respectful, constructive and can be heard by the receiver is a key skill in any workplace where humans work together collaboratively.
Considerations for learning design
This method asks students to give feedback, on the feedback they have received from a peer. By positioning the assessee in a more active role, rather than only passively receiving feedback, students have been shown to significantly improve their metacognitive awareness, academic performance and attitude to the peer review task (Kim, 2009).
Let’s keep it not negative
Negative feedback from student to student may not be received particularly well, and could even cause a student to withdraw from the peer group. Encouraging students to focus upon explanatory feedback as opposed to analytical assessment or specific revisions will result in more beneficial student experiences (Huisman, Saab, van Driel, van den Broek, 2018, Ladyshewsky, 2013).
Model good feedback
Students will of course learn by watching teaching staff give feedback, so modelling appropriate and effective approaches to feedback will assist students.
In the case of peer assessment making up a component of an assessment mark, there is a risk that this will make students feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, and students may even collude to increase their marks. Limiting peer assessment to 25% or less of an assignment can assist in mitigating these issues as can randomisation and anonymous matching of assessors to recipients (Ladyshewsky, 2013).
Peer feedback that is incorrect or based on misconceptions may hinder learning. In the case of informal peer to peer feed-back, getting groups of learners to work together can assist them to self-correct – if an opportunity is given for the group to present back to the class, there is an opportunity for the teacher to correct any errors. In the case of more formal learning tasks, asking student to provide feedback with specific reference to the assessment criteria or key sources will also be beneficial.
What are your experiences of peer feedback? Do you see it as an ally in learning and teaching? Or more of a potential pitfall? Get in touch with us in the comments below and let us know your thoughts!