Give practice in identifying quality and in formulating criteria
The ability to evaluate the quality of the work produced by others and to produce feedback reviews is a key skill in the professions and in life beyond university. To develop this ability in higher education students must be given regular experiences in making appraisals of others' work and in providing explanations for those appraisals using arguments and evidence. This is quite different from giving only an opinion. Importantly, however, students not only need opportunities to learn how to make evaluative judgements using criteria and standards provided by others (normally the teacher) but they also need opportunities to earn how to formulate criteria and standards for work themselves. Indeed, the formulation of criteria for a piece of work can be a critical learning exercise in its own right.
It is important to note that students will not learn deeply about the value of criteria and standards or how to apply them just by receiving information about them as a list or explanation before producing an assignment; rather, they need to actively engage with criteria and standards themselves at a deep level.
Criteria are defined here as a property or characteristic by which the quality of something is judged, while standards are about specific levels of quality or an object or a performance. For example, criteria are involved when doctors weigh up symptoms to make judgements about treatment, engineers consider the structural properties of the materials when they make decisions about the construction of a bridge, and managers appraise the work of staff using performance-related criteria. A standard usually has embedded within it a number of criteria - for example, the (minimum) standard for the structure of a steel bridge might be specified in terms of the quality of the steel, the quality of the welding, the quality of the supporting framework etc. In academic tasks, grade descriptors which specify standards will also have embedded criteria; for example, essay standards will depend on whether the question is addressed, the structure of the essay, the quality of the argument and evidence and the clarity of the writing.
Putting it into practice
- Provide criteria for the peer reviewing task - if the criteria are complex, ask students to put them into their own words before carrying out their reviews or to comment on their perceived value or validity afterwards..
- Ask students to discuss and formulate some criteria or review questions for the assignment before carrying out the reviews (e.g. in a prior workshop)
- Ask students to carry out reviews without giving pre-set criteria; then ask them to identify and record the criteria that emerge for them during, or after, the reviewing task.
- Provide a set of level descriptors of work at different standards; ask students to compare and match each peer assignment to a level descriptor and to provide reasons for their decisions.
- Insert an example of high quality work (e.g. produced by the teacher or an expert) into those being reviewed; after the reviewing has been completed, engage students in discussions about this example of a high standard.
- Provide students with examples of assignments (e.g. from previous student cohorts) that all meet the required criteria; as them to review and rank the assignments and to discuss why some are still of a higher standard than others [highlight the interplay between criteria and standards and between analytic and holistic judgements]
- Ask students to compare two or more peer assignments and to rank them in order of quality; they might also include their own assignment in the ranking; ask for an explanation for their ranking decisions in terms of both criteria and standards
- Devise your own examples...