Editor’s Note: Dr. Juwah presents powerful
documentation on effective implementation of major tenets of
constructivism within the Distancce Learning arena. It would be an
interesting challenge for our readers involved in distance learning
practice to implement and evaluate this approach.
Using Peer Assessment to Develop Skills and Capabilities
This paper presents the use of a seven–stage peer
assessment process and peer learning in an online context to develop
desired skills and capabilities. The contextualized and authentic
assessments included case studies, projects, critique and portfolio of
evidence. This approach helped ensure effectiveness and sustainability of
the assessment method and practice in meeting intended learning outcomes.
The ideas discussed in this paper are based on evidence drawn from
research and practice in facilitating the development of online tutoring
Assessment must perform double duty; not only does it
assess content it must also prepare learners for future learning (Boud,
2002 – research seminar presentation).
For assessment to be effective, it should
perform the following functions:
act as a motivator for learning (Boud et al, 1999; Cowan,
promote deep learning – in which the learner engages with
(a) the learning materials and resources, (b) other learners and (c)
tutor/facilitator (Marton & Saljo, 1984);
contribute to the development of skills (Boud et al, 1999;
2002; Gibbs;1992; Ramsden, 1992);
be cost effective and sustainable (Boud, 2002).
In higher education, most of the assessment is based
on traditional assessment practices of essay and problem type examination.
These traditional assessment practices, it has been found cannot
adequately test for critical thinking, creativity, reflection etc. (Lewis
and Johnson, 2002, p. 7). However, alternative and diverse assessment
methods, for example, peer assessment, portfolio, reflective journaling,
etc. have been shown to be constructive, provide authentic and
contextualized assessment that promotes deep learning and skills
development (Boud et al, 1999; Cowan, 1998, Gipps, 1999;
Peer assessment is an interactive and dynamic process
that involves learners in assessing, critiquing and making value judgment
on the quality and standard of work of other learners, and providing
feedback to peers to enable them enhance performance. Topping (1998) in
his paper on peer assessment between students in colleges and universities
provides a detailed typology of peer assessment methods. Evidence from
research findings abound supporting the benefits of peer assessment to
learners. These include peer learning in a non-threatening environment,
the removal of power domination by the teacher over the student, the
involvement of the student in the assessment process (Topping, 1998).
However, as learners are central in this assessment process, concerns are
of raised about their expertise in the knowledge content of the subject
matter and their assessment skills to ensure reliability, validity and
This paper discusses some of the issues of peer
assessment and reports on the alignment of teaching and assessment method
(peer assessment) in an online learning environment to foster the
development of a range of desired skills set and capabilities - critical
thinking, ability to analyze and synthesize information, problem solve,
assessing and giving feedback, make value judgment and reflection. In
addition, it details how this method of assessment can be employed to meet
the requirements of reliability, validity and fairness of formal
assessment but more importantly reduce assessment load for both the
learners and tutor/facilitator.
Need for the Alignment of Assessment
Cowan (1999b, RGU Year of Assessment Workshop)
states, “assessment is the powerhouse of learning. It is the engine
that drives learning”. However, in many online courses, assessment is
based on quizzes, multiple choice questions and/or essays. These
assessment methods are very limited in effectively testing and developing
higher order skills, for example, critical thinking, creativity and
reflection. Therefore, to provide effective and meaningful learning, it is
imperative that curriculum/courses are constructively aligned to meet the
intended learning outcomes of developing the learners’ knowledge, skills
and desired capabilities.
Biggs (1999) defines constructive alignment as
A good teaching system aligns teaching method and
assessment to the learning activities stated in the objectives, so that
all aspects of this system are in accord in supporting appropriate student
learning. This system of constructive alignment is based on the twin
principles of constructivism in learning and alignment in teaching.
In focusing on assessment in a system of constructive
alignment, assessment must be integral in the design of the curriculum for
it to contribute towards meeting the intended learning outcomes. Thus,
assessment must not be a ‘tag on’ to the curriculum or become a burden or
obstacle in the learning process.
Drawing on the twin principles of constructivism in
learning and alignment in teaching (Biggs, 1999) and Boud’s sustainable
assessment models as frames of reference, an attempt was made to connect
teaching and assessment methods and practice in an Online Tutoring
(e-Tutoring) Skills course at the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning
and Teaching (CELT), The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK. The
Online Tutoring course was designed primarily for developing faculty to
enable them to effectively teach and support students’ learning online.
The course is fifteen-weeks in duration and can be delivered entirely
online via the FirstClassÒ
learning environment or via a blended learning approach (a mix of
face-to-face and online delivery). The course has as its outcomes:
To familiarise themselves with the use of online learning
environments in teaching, learning and assessment;
To appraise the pedagogy underpinning online teaching and
To design fit-for-purpose online activities and/or course(s);
To embed ICT in the curriculum and to use innovative
technology in teaching and supporting learning;
To develop effective facilitator roles of moderating,
reviewing, summarising, assessing and giving feedback on individual and
group performance, and
To reflect on own personal and professional practice and
Developing the complex range of knowledge, skills and
capabilities that faculty required for facilitating online education
needed a well thought through learning and assessment strategies. The
constructivist and collaborative nature of online education necessitated
an aligned teaching/learning and assessment methods. Based on research
evidence and informed knowledge, peer learning and peer assessment methods
Rationale for Peer Assessment
In constructivist education, learners construct
knowledge and make meaning through social dialogue and interaction with
the environment (Vygostky, 1978). This form of collaborative and
cooperative learning, Dolittle & Camp (1999) posit, is underpinned by a
set of theoretical principles. These are:
Learning should take place in authentic and real-world
Learning should involve social negotiation and mediation;
Content and skills should be made relevant to the learner;
Content and skills should be understood within the framework
of the learner’s prior knowledge;
Students should be assessed formatively, serving to inform
future learning experiences;
Students should be encouraged to become self-regulatory,
self-mediated, and self-aware;
Teachers serve primarily as guides and facilitators of
learning, not instructors;
Teachers should provide for and encourage multiple
perspectives and representations of content (paragraph 29).
In line with Dolittle & Camp’s theoretical principles
and taking into account the nature of the online tutoring course
characterized by 1) asynchronous collaborative learning, and 2)
negotiation and construction of meaning through discourse (talk) in the
form of postings to the discussion forum, peer learning and peer
assessment were the most appropriate learning and assessment methods. In
this context, the tutor/facilitator acts more as a guide on the side
(Race, 1998; Topping, 1998).
The Peer Assessment Process
The adoption of peer assessment in assess learning in
the online tutoring course necessitated the development of a framework to
ensure that the assessment method is constructively aligned to teaching
and learning methods. The framework developed for the peer assessment
involved a seven-stage process (see figure 1).
Figure 1. Peer Assessment: The seven-stage process
1. Explicit rationale.
The participants were provided with detailed
appropriate information in the course handbook on the rationale of the
assessment method. In addition, participants were also provided with a
Guide on Peer Assessment containing exemplars on how to devise assessment
criteria, develop an assessment grid/rubric and a brief on how to give and
receive feedback after assessment.
2. Engage learners in an authentic learning context
In developing the desired skills and capabilities of
facilitating, moderating, reviewing, summarizing, assessing and giving
feedback on individual and group performance, as well as reflecting one's
own personal and professional practice and development, the course was
designed and delivered in a way that the learning activities and
assessment tasks involved each participant in taking turns to fulfill each
of the above listed roles (see Table 1). This ensured that learning was
authentic and contextualized, as well as provided the opportunity for the
participants to learn by doing.
Table 1. Knowledge, Skills and Capabilities Development
in Online Tutoring Course
Knowledge of online education;
Comprehension of the pedagogy of
Application – link theory to
Analysis and interpretation of facts
Synthesise new knowledge from
available information and evidence;
Evaluation of learning and
Assessing learning, grading work,
giving and receiving feedback
Communication – communicate
effectively in different situations and audiences using appropriate
techniques, media and technology;
Decision making and judgement;
Trustworthy and honest;
Accountability – take account of own
Fairness – fair in all dealings with
Respect and value the opinion and
belief of others.
Self aware; Self esteem and
confident; Reflects on own practice and continually identifying new
learning needs for own growth and development.
3. Involve students in setting assessment criteria
As part of their learning and acquiring the desired
tutoring/facilitating repertoires, participants through tasks were
involved in devising assessment criteria and developing assessment rubric
based on a staged learning process. This staged learning involved learning
by examples. Participants were given a step-by-step guide to peer
assessment including devising criteria, allocating weightings for
grades/marks (Baume, 2001b). Next, the participants were involved in
devising relevant assessment criteria to a given task/activity and/or
completing partially supplied assessment rubrics (see exemplar below)
Lastly, participants were asked to devise and design
from scratch assessment criteria and rubric for given tasks.
Example: Devising Assessment
“Isolation and lack of motivation have been identified as main causes
for the high drop out rates in online courses”. Reflecting on a course
you teach/facilitate, what in your view would cause a student to be
isolated (feel isolated) and de-motivated as to drop out of a course?
What impact do you think motivation, or the lack of it, has on a
learning community? Using experience gained from your own course,
suggest possible solutions to the situations you have identified. You
may wish to link your response to research/evidence-based information
or use the information to support your submission. Post your
individual response titled Isolation and lack of motivation by the
deadline of 12/11/2002 to The Vineyard Garden conference area. Read
the posts put up by the other course members, respond to the posts,
question and comment on issues that may be the same as or are
different from yours.
Each group is to devise four criteria by
which the posts are to be assessed and graded. Following which, both
groups should agree a common and final set of four criteria. The posts
will be graded as Met the criteria or Criteria not met.
(Refer to the Guidelines for Peer Assessment in the Resources
Section to help you with devising assessment criteria).
Allocate roles for the group task as appropriate
Each individual to put up own post by 12/11/2001.
Named indivdual to summarise, finalise
and agree group’s response and this should be posted to The Vineyard
Garden conference area by 19/11/2002.
4. Assess learning and give feedback
Participants were required to be involved in
formative and summative assessment of learning and giving feedback to
peers on their performance and development through set activities.
5. Coach for effective performance.
Participants were coached to promote the development
and acquisition of desired skills and capabilities, as well as to ensure
best practice. Coaching involves demonstrating/modeling by example,
prompting, questioning, supporting and providing re-assurance and
encouragement (Murphy, 2001).
6. Reflect on learning
Participants were encouraged to reflect on their
learning, performance and practice. These were done via dialogue with
peers and tutor/facilitator, responses to online tutorial questions and
reflective journaling. Frameworks for reflection and/or trigger questions
were provided as guides to help participants reflect effectively.
7. Tutor check to assure
Tutor checked and monitored the assessment process to
verify that the stated criteria for the course were fully met and to
assure quality and standard of learning.
This study was carried out using an action research
approach and relied on a variety of sources of data. This included
participants’ contributions to online discussions, coursework, assessment
tasks, portfolio of evidence (Baume, 2001a; Cowan, 1999b) and course
Learning and assessment in the online tutoring course
was based on critique of others’ work, dialogic iterations, analysis,
synthesis and construction of new knowledge and making of meaning. This
hermeneutic approach to learning underpinned and enhanced participants’
development of content knowledge and pedagogy of online teaching and
assessment. The dialogic iterations and reiterations were crucial in
enabling the participants to engage in deep learning (Marton & Saljo,
1984) and to acquire the language of discourse of online learning, thus
enhancing participants’ confidence to effectively perform in the online
environment. The open discourse as one participant stated:
….I believe that moving to online learning and
facilitating not only engenders learner empowerment, but also engenders
teacher empowerment! I think it engenders teacher empowerment because as a
teacher I feel greater ownership of the course as a result of the ‘issue’
identification, reflection, implementation, and evaluation process. At the
same time, I think it engenders learner empowerment because you tend to
incorporate the same action learning process into the course design for
your students’ learning with tasks that ask them to make choices,
implement them and then reflect on, and learn from, the perceived outcomes
of those choices.
Action learning (learning by doing) was critical in
developing the various skills and repertoires required for facilitating
and supporting learning online. Turn taking in performing the various
roles of facilitator, summarizer and peer assessor ensured that
participants were not only aware of but also achieved competency through
performance and practice in an authentic and contextualized learning (Dolittle
& Camp, 1999; Vygostky, 1978).
The training of participants in devising assessment
criteria, developing assessment rubric/grade criteria as well as their
involvement in assessing peers’ work contributed in developing
participants’ ability to assess work, make value judgment, give and
receive feedback. Evidence from the participants’ coursework showed the
that staged training in peer assessment and the interactive
nature of the assessment, elicited improved quality and standard of
participants’ performance as facilitator, summariser and assessor;
the dynamic and balanced assessment process equally ensured
that through giving and receiving feedback participants were made aware of
aspects of their knowledge and skills needing further development (Cowan,
1998; Marton & Saljo, 1976; Race, 1998).
From this study, which is still ongoing, it was quite
apparent that clear guidelines and specific instructions in undertaking
peer assessment were essential tools that must be provided for the
learners. As we experienced, where instructions were unclear, learners
were unsure what was required of them and felt disempowered and
Coaching through modeling, prompting, questioning and
encouragement provided the relevant scaffolding that enabled the
participants to develop and achieve competency. This structured learning
through interaction with and guidance of the tutor/facilitator and peers
enhances the learners’ development through the zone of proximal
development to actual development (Vygotsky, 1978).
The participants’ development through the zone of
proximal development was very evident in the improvement of assessing and
feedback giving skills from the start through to the latter stages of the
course. The quality of feedback was much more focused, constructive and
given with some degree of confidence at the latter stages of the course
compared to the limited feedback, often un-critical and un-focused given
at the start of the course.
Experience from the pilot course necessitated the
introduction of a justification box as part of the assessment performance.
The justification box was added to help limit or eliminate bias in
assessment, for example, to prevent favoritism amongst participants. It
requires the participants to justify with reasons their grading of the
assessed candidate’s performance. (See Table 2 - Assessment Proforma).
Table 2. Assessment Proforma
Name of course
Criteria Not Met
Course participants to devise assessment criteria
in relation to given task
Course participants to devise assessment criteria
in relation to given task
Course participants to devise assessment criteria
in relation to given task
Develops an effective, coherent and lucid argument
to support and/or substantiate the hypothesis and/or topic being
Argument is based on correct analysis,
interpretation of the situation (and/or application) of data or
results and synthesis and logical sequencing of information/facts to
construct new knowledge/meaning.
Uses available theories and evidence to formulate
logical reasoning and argument to create new knowledge,
Uses available theories, concepts and evidence to validate and
appropriate new knowledge to practice;
Applies new knowledge in appropriate situations to:
- solve problems, improve and enhance performance
and practice, and contribute to scholarship.
Contributes to the effectiveness of the group.
constructively engages with peers - initiates,
directs and leads, supports and values the effort of others, provides
appropriate suggestions and feedback to enable them develop and to
achieve their goals and potential;
handles and copes effectively with unusual/awkward situations and
enables others to work harmoniously.
Reflects on own learning
Clarifies goals, manages and evaluates own learning
and identifies new learning needs;
Uses feedback given to improve own performance and
Feedback on candidate’s performance
Overall Grade for assessment
Please justify with reasons the overall grade allocated to the
Name of Peer
Peer assessment and peer learning enabled the
participants to model cognitive behaviors, thus, contributing to learners
gaining mastery of knowledge. In addition, meta-cognitive discussions
enhance participants’ awareness of alternative perspectives on issues, as
well as promote self-assessment and reflection (Cowan, 1999a; Moon 1999).
An entry in the learning journal of one course participant read:
My feelings towards the learning portfolio were
generally positive; it pushed me to think about what I had learnt and I
valued the opportunity to reflect. It's useful to keep recording what we
have learnt so that we can evaluate our learning at the end of the course.
This course has clarified some of the potential pitfalls and made me think
about what might work in an online environment and how it might be
designed to maximise the opportunities the new technologies create. The
design of any online materials has to be carefully considered to match the
pedagogical needs of the students to allow them to fulfil their potential.
Personalities and the needs of the individual must be taken into
consideration as much as they would in a traditional teaching environment.
An emergent outcome from the study was the reduction
in tutor/facilitator assessment load. The reduction in time spent by the
facilitator in commenting on individual posts as well as assessing
individual work meant that this assessment approach was cost effective and
sustainable (Boud, 2002). The adoption of this approach to peer assessment
for very large groups of course participants has huge economical benefits
for training providers.
Evidence from this study showed that peer assessment
and peer learning were very effective and efficient in ensuring the
development of the desired knowledge, skills and capabilities that faculty
required for facilitating and supporting online learning.
In addition, peer assessment was contributory in
promoting self-assessment and self-regulation in participants with the
consequent effect of the enhancement of quality and standard of practice
For peer assessment to be effective, rigorous and
appropriate training must be provided to enable the participants
familiarize themselves with the process of devising assessment criteria,
developing an assessment rubric, assessing work and giving and receiving
feedback. In addition, participants require encouragement and support from
the tutor/facilitator to help build their confidence in engaging with and
using the assessment method to its maximum potential.
Assessment methods used in assessing learning must be
fit-for-purpose in meeting the learner’s needs, and in addition, the
implementation of the assessment should comply with good assessment
practice (AAHE, 1996). In keeping with these two tenets, a Quality Spiral
(see Figure 2) was used to enhance as well as assure both the quality of
learning and the assessment processes.
Source: Juwah (2000)
Figure 2. Quality Spiral for
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About the Author
PhD, MBA, ILTM is an educational developer and Deputy Head, Centre for the
Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, The Robert Gordon University,
Aberdeen, Scotland, UK. Dr Juwah is course leader for the new lecturers’
accreditation programme. His research interests include online (e-)
learning, assessment issues, postgraduate supervision and personal
He is a member of the UK Institute for Learning and
Teaching in Higher Education. He may be contacted via email: