Dr Hilary Hamnett – School of Chemistry – Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science – Staff Profile
Our forensic science and forensic chemistry students complete a summative peer assessment in the second year. Last year this was a paper exercise, but we were still able to run the assessment this year, using the PeerMark function on turnitin.
Here are some of my reflections on using PeerMark for the first time.
The technical setup for PeerMark is quite straightforward, but you will be asked to supply questions for the students to answer when reviewing each other’s work. This can be something of challenge as the questions need to specific, so rather than “What is wrong with this work?” ask “What are the standards of spelling and grammar?”. It’s also best to limit the times students can just put one-word answers. I used phrases such as “…if no, explain why not…” or “…if no, mark up examples”.
PeerMark allows you to make the peer-review process anonymous, but I made the review open (and told the students this in advance) to align it with a forensic science workplace. For this assessment I gave the students four days to complete their review, and Mike from the Digital Education team made a short video in advance demonstrating the system to the students from their view on turnitin.
Unfortunately you can’t play around much with PeerMark on your test Blackboard site, so quite a lot goes on faith that it will work. Something important I discovered was that once the peer assessment is live, you can’t change the questions!
There was a bit of troubleshooting, as some students started peer reviews then accidentally closed them without submitting. It seems that if they log out and back in to Blackboard they can do the review again.
Most of the troubleshooting actually happened during the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra drop-in I ran. I was surprised but pleased to see the students answering each other’s questions on how to navigate PeerMark in the chat window. This was particularly helpful because as an ‘Instructor’ on Blackboard you don’t have the same view as the students, so it’s difficult to help them (Student Preview doesn’t work on PeerMark).
Using the feedback
Students can see the comments from their classmate immediately, even if the deadline for reviews isn’t up yet. This leaves a very short window for staff to check the language and tone of reviews is appropriate (it was!).
There was also quite a big variation in the length of reviews and how much marking up of drafts students did (they have similar tools to us on turnitin) leading to complaints from some students about the feedback they received. Looking back at the paper exercise, the 50-minute class provided a natural expectation of how much time the students should spend reviewing. In future, I will give students reviewing online some guidance on this.
Finally, be aware that if not all students complete a peer review you may have to do the remaining reviews to make sure all students receive some feedback.