Hands typing on a laptop on a table; iced coffee to the left, open workplace scene in the background

Accelerator

Research

Key Takeaways:
  • WGU Labs collaborated with Peerceptiv to conduct a study at the University of Virginia to assess students’ experiences with the peer assessment tool
  • Students reported the tool was easy to use and engage with, and compared to other classroom assessments and technologies, Peerceptiv was rated more favorably by students along dimensions of collaboration and critical thinking
  • Peerceptiv’s unique double-blind peer review feature and integration of a “feedback” grade incentivizes students to deliver critical, constructive feedback

Traditional in-person college classrooms feature numerous avenues for students to collaborate with their peers. Stopping by someone’s desk to ask a question; forming teams to tackle a group project; creating study groups with like-minded students after class. 

Alas, when schools shifted to online learning last year due to the pandemic, students lost the in-person peer connections  that helped foster their skills of collaboration and communication. These skills, however,are increasingly valued by employers (Finley, 2021); in a recent American Association of College and Universities report, 93% of 496 surveyed employers rated the ability to work effectively in teams -utilizing skills of collaboration, communication, and connection- as important for college graduates.

At WGU Labs, we studied an online peer learning tool – Peerceptiv – that improves outcomes and lowers costs in many academic contexts. At its core, Peerceptiv is an online peer assessment platform that allows instructors to scale meaningful assessment and actively engage students with their assessments. But as we found….But as we found in our research, the tool also served as a critical platform for social connection. The platform’s ability to scaffold collaboration and peer engagement and easily integrate into the instructor’s curriculum ultimately helped students reconnect with their classmates, even in a remote learning environment.

Research Overview

Seeking to understand more about students’ experiences with Peerceptiv, we surveyed two classrooms at the University of Virginia. In the statistics and literature courses (demonstrating the flexibility of the platform to be used across varying disciplines), students used Peerceptiv to upload their writing assignments, and give and receive feedback on their peer’s writing. 

We studied Peerceptiv’s implementation in two classrooms — statistics and literature —  at the University of Virginia. Peerceptiv facilitates a double-blind review process – both reviewers and students submitting work for review remain anonymous – to promote honesty in reviews and to reduce bias and anxiety in the review process. Peerceptiv also creates two-way feedback in which students receiving reviews also rate the helpfulness and accuracy of the feedback they’ve been given. Knowing that the feedback they give on their classmates’ work will also be rated  incentivizes reviewers to provide rich and constructive feedback and develops students’ communication and collaboration skills.

Study Findings

Both classes in our study adopted Peerceptiv for use in distributing peer feedback. To implement Peerceptiv in courses, instructors design assignments in which students produce a written product (e.g. report, essay, research proposal, data analysis) to upload onto the platform. These assignments are then randomly assigned to three or four peer reviewers, who are given time, usually about a week, to provide feedback using the guidelines in the instructor-created rubric. After feedback is provided, the reviews are given back to the original author (all blinded)..

In our study, a total of 143 students submitted two pieces of work for review. Across the two classes, students readily engaged in the exercise and according to feedback ratings, largely found the peer feedback helpful. For example, in the literature course, the helpfulness ratings for their peer reviews had an average score of 86.29; in the statistics course, where students submitted two assignments, helpfulness ratings for the first and second assignments had an average score of 91.53 and 84.78, respectively.

At the end of the course, 22 students completed a survey about their experience with the peer feedback tool. The majority of respondents said that Peerceptiv offered more opportunities for them to interact with other students than did other online learning applications they’ve used. They also felt Peerceptiv allowed them to engage with their coursework more deeply than did assessments used in other classes. 

One student specifically remarked, “Peerceptiv was a dynamic way of interacting with peers during the pandemic on assignments,” reflecting the utility of the tool in facilitating interaction during a physically-isolated school year. Another student said that they enjoyed having access to a platform that successfully replicated in-person peer reviews. 

These observations of Peerceptiv being put to use in real college classrooms underscore the capacity of the platform to immerse students in the feedback and collaboration process and shed light on its utility to foster a wide range of skills.

Conclusion

Skills like communication and collaboration give students the confidence to work in multi-disciplinary settings, such that they are able to cross-communicate with teams and excel in work that might be outside their direct knowledge base. Our research with Peerceptiv highlighted the ability of the tool to engage students in such skills, while also fostering writing comprehension and enhancing students’ ability to critically assess their peers’ work.

Though in-person connection may never be fully replaced with technology, Peerceptiv serves as a unique tool, able to be utilized in both fully in-person and fully online settings, that enhances students’ collaboration skills.  As these tools continue to develop and faculty and students become more comfortable with them, instructors will be better equipped for the flexible classrooms and universities many anticipate will follow COVID.

To learn more about the research, head over to the Peerceptiv website here. Peerceptiv collaborated with the Accelerator at WGU Labs , a non-traditional accelerator focused on growing the most impactful education solutions through services, to conduct this research.