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07 October 2015

Wording on Peer Evaluation Forms

Over the last few years, I have been incorporating a lot peer evaluation into my courses. The purpose and scope varies between courses, but generally, I set up a Google Form with questions that measure very specific criteria for assignments and group work. I've found that it helps me in my grading, but it also has proven to be quite helpful for the students, as it gives them an opportunity to see firsthand how their work compares to that of their classmates.

I did, however, run into one fairly major problem last spring with this system. In my frosh-level Critical Thinking class, I had a near-mutiny on my hands when several students realized (even though it had been explicit in the syllabus which they'd had for several weeks) that they were required to rank the members of their groups. Here were the possible answers for this particular measure:
  • single best member of group
  • not the best but in the upper half
  • not the worst but in the lower half
  • single worst member of group
Though I stood my ground on that first round of evaluations, I did decide to change the language for the possible answers for the subsequent three rounds of peer evaluation to the following:
  • 1st best
  • 2nd best
  • 3rd best
  • 4th best
The students were doing the exact same thing, but no one complained about it after the change of language. Evidently, it doesn't feel as bad to label someone "4th best" as it does to name them the "single worst."

I'm making another change on several of my peer evaluations this fall. I had noticed in the past, not surprisingly, that students tend to grant inflated grades to their peers if asked directly which grade they think was earned:

  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D
  • F
I'm currently trying out this language, though:
  • excellent
  • above average
  • average
  • below average
  • failure
Preliminary, I can already say that the modal grading given this small change is lower and that there appears to be greater variation in the grades as well. In short, this means that there is more differentiation and students are getting better feedback on their work. It seems to be less difficult to judge someone's work as "below average" than to give them a "D."

Frankly, I thought that the students would see straight through these changes, but they haven't. For me, it's better to keep them happy, anyway.

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