Peer review is a widely used assessment form in online courses, as it enables feedback from multiple perspectives at a large scale.
Why peer review?
Based on the learner feedback we receive, most learners greatly appreciate receiving this feedback, and acknowledge that they can also learn a lot from seeing the work of their peers.
‘My favourite part of the course was to review the others [work], since i not always knew much about their themes and it’s rather interesting to see others struggle with their [work] as much as i struggle.’
‘[My favourite part of the course was] interact with other learner, and reading their essays, because it was a wonderful way to see others people life and their way of thinking.’
‘I got a lot of knowledge from them as much as learning from the mentor.’
However, at the same time, peer reviews are often mentioned as learners’ least favourite part of the course, mostly due to not getting a consistently high quality review from their peers or feeling that they themselves are lacking the expertise to give meaningful feedback:
‘I liked submitting assignment tasks but unfortunately the peer feedback I received in both cases wasn’t really feedback. The first feedback was my assignment copied and pasted back to me and the second feedback wasn’t talking about my assignment.‘
Although we cannot guarantee a 100% student engagement in peer review exercises, by following the below guidance, we can make sure that we avoid these common pitfalls.
How it works
Peer reviewed assignments on FutureLearn are always comprised of three steps:
|Assignment||Learners are given guidance on the task and can submit their work using a text box|
|Review||Learners submit feedback on another learner’s work|
|Reflection||Learners are presented with review(s) of their own assignment to reflect on. In this step learners can also choose to say whether the review was helpful – if ‘yes’, the reviewing learners is notified; if ‘no’, the reviewer does not receive a notification.|
Below you can see how each step looks from a learner’s perspective. Please note that the review given in this example is brief for demonstration purposes – in practice learners should submit considerably more detailed review.
How to set up a peer review activity
1. A peer review always consists of three steps: Assignment, Review and Reflection.
To set these steps up please contact email@example.com or your Partnership Manager.
2. Within the Assignment step write the step and Assignment Guidelines following our Top 10 tips for a great peer review.
3. Review step - this is the step where the learners will receive another learner's assignment to review and provide feedback on. See our Top 10 tips for how to frame feedback
Learners must first submit an assignment in the previous step before they can review other learners’ assignments. If they have not submitted an assignment, they will be reminded automatically. Learners are not obliged to review assignments, but may review as many as they wish. Each assignment can be reviewed by more than one learner.
4. Reflection step - Content here appears automatically once the learner has had their assignment reviewed so there is no need to add any content. However, you are encouraged to test out the peer review activity with a reviewer in your organisation to help check whether the guidelines are clear.
A CSV file of the Peer Review Assignments and Peer Review Reviews is available to download from the Stats Dashboard at any time while the course is running.
Peer Review step interpolation
A subtlety of the Peer Review step implementation is that other steps can appear in-between these as long as they are all contained within the same activity. This might allow you to better “onboard” learners into the review process, perhaps giving more guidance on how to provide useful feedback, or having a Video step of the educator walking through an exemplar submission.
Top 10 tips for a great peer review
1. Consider whether peer review is appropriate
In some cases, using a quiz or test may be a more effective way for learners to achieve the learning outcomes for your course. Peer review tasks work best when the rubric encourages the reviewer to consider how the writer constructed their argument and came to the conclusion that they did. Also, if a course is for complete beginners (eg. introduction to coding) often learners do not feel they have the expertise to give meaningful feedback on a peer’s work, feeling like they are the ‘blind leading the blind’.
2. Give two types of guidance
To enable learners to get the most out of peer reviews, you should provide two differentiated guidances. First, the guideline on how to complete the assignment, and second, guidelines on how to give a comprehensive review of a peer’s work. You can find examples for both in the case studies section.
3. Set context for the task
A successful assignment task places learners within context where the required work would be useful and relevant to their learning. Tasks should not, for example, take an existing learning outcome and prefix it with “write 300 words on…”, but rather frame it as a practice for a specific learning outcome, eg. writing a blog post or a project proposal. Also, it can be highly beneficial for the learner to set an assignment that results in a tangible end product after the course ends, e.g. a report they can share with colleagues or a letter they could send.
You can also add related files and links to the assignment task as needed.
4. Be specific in your guidance
Ideally give learners just one option regarding the task and topic (rather than 2 or 3), and always set a word count for the assessment. Both will help keep learners on a level playing field when it comes to reviewing each other’s work. Ensure that the assessment guidelines are written in the form of questions that can be answered and check that they make sense when writing the assessment as well as when reviewing it.
5. Reminder on changes
When giving guidance on the assignment, apart from the task description, make sure to include a technical note on task subscription. Remind learners that they will not be able to edit their work after submitting it and that they might find it easiest to write it offline and then paste it into FutureLearn.
6. Using third party tools
If the assignment is to feature more than just text (e.g. diagrams, images or other forms of multimedia), clear instructions should be given on how to do this.
7. Guidance on feedback
Coach learners in providing useful feedback and receiving criticism – you could even include a step in between Assignment and Review to provide additional resources that will help participants become better reviewers. Giving guidance to learners about how to receive criticism without taking it personally might prevent less confident learners from becoming discouraged and giving up on a course.
8. Follow with a Discussion step
As none of the three assignment steps include a comments section (this would distract learners from the task and possibly result in plagiarism), many learners appreciate an opportunity afterwards to feed back on the task and share what they’ve learnt. To facilitate this, you could add a Discussion step after the peer review, for learners to discuss their assignments and their experience of reviewing others. Positive comments from learners who found the process formative can encourage others to go back and participate if they skipped over the peer review steps.
9. Offer model answers
Give links to model assignment answers at the start of a following Discussion Step, or in your end of week email. But please note that these must be exemplars created by educators, not actual learner assignments. The FutureLearn Terms and Conditions (item 7.11) state clearly: “We will not make available any Learner content related to your assignment or assessment”.
10. Offer further help if needed
In the context of an online course with a diverse cohort and mixed learner ability levels, authors could provide additional scaffolding for less able students. Scaffolding could include an expanded rubric, translated instructions, exemplar assignments and structured essay templates or prompts.
Below is a case studies PDF that gives examples of the best way to describe peer review guidelines for learners and the best way to review a peer’s work.