Can bad students give good feedback?

A modern approach to teaching and learning is to use peer feedback. The idea is to let students give feedback to each other, both as a way to ensure that students get more feedback, but more importantly because students learn a lot from giving feedback to their peers (Sadler 2006, Liu 2006).

When discussing the concept of peer feedback with teachers and students, the most common response is:

What if my students don’t understand the material? Will the less well-performing students be able to give feedback?

It is natural to think this way, that students that are not high performers academically are not able to provide useful and constructive feedback to their peers. But as Habeshaw (1993) writes, all students “.. are in the best position to know what their difficulties are and to judge what kind of feedback is helpful”.

Studies show that feedback needs to be rational and supported by suggestions (Kim 2005) and that receiving ‘justified’ comments in feedback improves performance of students (Gielen 2010).

Teachers love data ❤️

Let’s look at some actual data!

To try and answer the question, we have dug into our data at Peergrade to see if we can get a clearer picture. By reviewing data from more than 10.000 students across 500 courses, we looked at the correlation between the quality of feedback a student provides (as evaluated by the receiving peer) and how well they performed on their own assignments.

The horizontal axis shows each student’s academic performance which is the average of their score relative to other students for each assignment. The vertical axis shows the average feedback score of feedback they gave to their peers.

When we look at the data, we see that there is a very weak correlation (r = 0.11, p-value = 0.0007) between how good students are at giving feedback, and how good their own work in the course is. Surprisingly, students who perform significantly worse than their peers in the assignments, are usually able to provide great feedback to others.

All students learn from peer assessment

The important takeaway is that all students are able to learn from peer assessment, and that it is possible to use it as a pedagogical tool even when teaching classes where students are not all on the same level.

If you are interested in trying peer assessment for yourself, head over to Peergrade and give it a go — it is totally free for teachers!

The content in this post is part of a submitted research paper to the 12th International Conference on E-Learning)