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Peer Marking I

Assessment is probably the most important task we do for our students. It encourages students to learn by setting a deadline and the feedback stimulates improvements. Having said that, a good idea is to let students mark each other’s work. We shall refer to this as peer marking.

This would at first seem to be a bad idea. Students are not experts so will they have the necessary knowledge to mark correctly? How can they give good feedback without expert knowledge? (Anyway, isn’t this precisely the sort of work we are paid to do?)

Well, there are a number of advantages. The time saved by the lecturer could be used more profitably in other assessments. Students are able to compare their work with that of others — maybe it will spur them on to do better or help them realise that their work is not as bad as they thought it is. They get an insight into how hard marking is. (I admit that sounds like a self-serving reason!)

For me one of the best advantages concerns writing mathematical arguments. When entering university almost no student can write mathematics well. (And that’s ok. My belief is that it is something I have to teach — I am not blaming the teachers at pre-university level!) When students peer mark they can see how difficult marking is when the work is not written in sentences or is placed all over the page instead of in a nice flow. This is another example where showing is far better than telling. Peer marking shows them the type of mistakes that they are probably making too.

So how can peer marking be done? One possibility is to leave one exercise from a weekly exercise sheet unmarked. At the next tutorial randomly assign the unmarked work (suitably anonymised) to the students (making sure they don’t receive their own work). Give the students the solutions and a short period of time to mark the piece of work given to them — perhaps with feedback comments. The marks are recorded and all the work — lecturer and peer marked — is returned to the students.

Mistakes in marking will certainly occur. Work that is correct will be marked wrong and work that is wrong will be marked correct. Fortunately, this will often be picked up by the student receiving the work. However, given that only one question of many is marked it means that any undiscovered errors will not have a catastrophic effect on the overall mark.

Therefore, peer marking can be used to save marking time and can give students a valuable learning experience.

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