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How to get students to provide and process peer feedback better

Last updated on 21 February 2024
For an optimal learning process in active learning, it is important that students receive feedback on completed assignments. Peer feedback from fellow students can be part of this. But how do you ensure that students give qualitative feedback?

In peer feedback, students give each other feedback on their written assignments, presentations, or skills. This is an important academic skill because it stimulates learning more than feedback from the teacher alone. This is because students are more critical about the feedback from their peers: “Can I trust this feedback? Should I do something with this feedback or ignore it?”

Peer feedback is thus an attractive way to make your teaching more active and teaches students to give substantiated commentary. Through peer feedback, students also compare their own work with that of others and learn to improve.

Sometimes peer feedback from students doesn’t ascend the level of criticism on language errors or generalisations? You can avoid this by following the tips below, which are based on scientific research on peer feedback.

Tip 1: train students in giving peer feedback
Research has shown that students have different approaches to giving feedback and that there are developmental stages in this:

  1. Getting used to giving feedback (compliments, giving 'proof of reading');
  2. Clarification (asking for clarification or additions);
  3. Enrichment (asking for deepening on specific points).

If you don't give students clear instructions about feedback, they will probably get stuck in stage A or B. You can train students by letting them practice first. For example, let students give peer feedback on an assignment from a student of last year’s course. Then discuss this with the students, and indicate what is going well and what they can improve on when giving feedback. By practicing giving peer feedback and giving feedback on this as a teacher, students quickly learn what works and what doesn't, and reach a higher level. For example, use tip 2 below when practicing.

What should be in a training? Check out the follow-up tip: Peer feedback part 2.

Tip 2: pre-structure the feedback
Make sure there is a structure in the feedback process, so that students give feedback on all relevant aspects. You can do this, for example, with a rubric or assessment model in which comments must be given for each topic in the rubric. You can use the learning objectives of your course as inspiration for a rubric. If you don't have a rubric, teach students to work from 'big' to 'small':

1. The structure and the main question

  • What are the most essential observations?
  • Is there a logical structure?
  • Is there a common thread throughout the text?
  • Is it understandable? 

2. The structure and common thread in detail

  • Is there an introduction, middle section, conclusion and discussion?
  • Is there a clear connection between paragraphs?
  • Is it easy to follow? 
  • Is the content correct? Are premises relevant, and correct? Are conclusions justifiable?

3. The style and language

  • Is the style appropriate and consistent?
  • Are references properly inserted?
  • Are there any writing errors?
  • Is the title appropriate and appealing?

Tip 3: have students give feedback on several pieces of work
Have students give feedback on several pieces of work rather than just one. And let students receive feedback from multiple fellow students as well. This gives the student a broader perspective on the subject and the execution of the assignment.

Don’t let students give their feedback anonymously at first. If they know who the assignment or the feedback belongs to, it gives them a bigger sense of responsibility and they can easily discuss it afterwards (online or face to face).

Tip 4: peer feedback is more effective through dialogue
A crucial step for the learning process, that is often skipped in peer feedback, is dialogue. The conversation between the recipient of the feedback and the feedback giver is the main moment for clarification and deepening. Here, students learn to engage in an academic discussion. As a teacher, it’s important to hold back on giving feedback at this stage because students will then be hesitant to contribute.

Want to know more?
Watch the video below or check out our follow-up tip on giving peer feedback.

Digital support
FeedbackFruits Peer Review is a good way to support the peer feedback process. Also, because students and teachers can give a reflection on the feedback given. This tool is included in Canvas and is intuitive to use for both teachers and students.

Teach students to give better peer feedback

Want your students to give better peer feedback? Then share this animation with them. The animation is short, powerful and aimed directly at students.