Solutions: Improving peer review with Teammates

overviewAssessing group work and incorporating an element of peer review or evaluation can be a fraught process that can lead to friction.  The Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries‘ School of Creative Technologies at the University of Portsmouth use Teammates to smooth assessment and evaluations.

Having university students work together in groups and then be assessed by peers is a common feature of many discipline areas.  The School of Creative Technologies uses group work, followed by peer assessment and evaluation, regularly. However, both students and teachers found this paper-based, retrospective process time-consuming and a source of potential hostility.

Retrospective review

Peer review was commonly done by getting students to complete a paper questionnaire at the end of a project at the university.  Whilst this was useful, it was often not done well by students, and always retrospectively, so it was not possible to pick up problems met within the group work process until it was too late to resolve them.

Looking to improve upon the traditional methods of peer review and evaluation used by groups of between three and fifteen students was Rod Jeffcote, deputy head of the School of Creative Technologies. He comments: “The paper-based review system meant we had to distribute and then retrieve bits of paper from students.  In the classroom, a lot were reluctant to fill in the reviews in front of their classmates, plus if some of them weren’t there when the paperwork was given out or needed to be handed in, they missed out.

“An online system would make per review and evaluation part of the normal assessment process.  The traditional peer review was always done at the very end of a project and students were asked to reflect back, whereas with a simple online system, you can do it at various points within a project and pick up any potential problems,” he states.

Problems answered

After investigating a number of different softwares, the School of Creative Technologies chose to pilot the use of Teammates in the academic year 2014-15.  Jeffcote says the advantages of Teammates for the School are that it is free; it has been effectively developed by and for an academic environment at the National University of Singapore; and that it runs in and can synchronise with Google apps, as used by the School’s staff and students.

“Since the system was easy to set up we piloted Teammates on a class of 80 students split into 20 teams of four,” states Jeffcote.  “As the students were working on a single year-long project we set up a review stage after just one month of the course starting.  This allowed us to see if there were any problems within groups that might need some intervention.  A further review was set up for the mid-point and a final one just after project completion.  In the final review we encouraged students to give positive feedback to other team members about the experience of working with them. We did not use the review for peer marking, only perceived effort and contribution, but the system will allow for this if you wish.”

The pilot proved successful.  It was popular with students, it enabled staff to better monitor the groups, and reduced paperwork, says Jeffcote.  He notes: “Teammates allows students to give feedback on their peers, is flexible enough for us to add our own questions, and gives different levels of access and anonymity; online system anonymity helps student be a bit more forthcoming at an earlier stage if they’re having any problems.”

Easy usage

The software is flexible and easy to set up, Jeffcote says.  Students’ names, email addresses and teams can be uploaded by a simple cut and paste from a spreadsheet.  The program comes with a range of default questions but these can be amended or added to.  It allows for varying degrees of visibility of responses: they may be seen by either the tutor only, the tutor and the other group members, or everyone in the class.  A final time-saving feature is that the system automatically emails students with a link to ask them to complete the review on a predetermined date, and also sends out a reminder 24 hours before the session closes.

Teammates is now being used in a range of modules across the School.  Jeffcote concludes: “I would absolutely recommend Teammates. I haven’t seen anything that’s better, as well as being open source.  It works very well for us.”

Article Courtesy of Tech & Learning

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