Peergrade: Leveraging feedback to liberate time
The ingenuity of Peergrade exists in its simplicity. It takes an activity that every school child has at some point participated in - swapping work with a neighbour - and dramatically leverages its effectiveness using technology. It saves teaching time, encourages new pedagogical approaches and facilitates frequent feedback. It also reveals fascinating insights into some of the assumptions students make about their learning.
Peergrade developed when David Kofoed Wind was teaching at university. While running his first course on data science he ran into a problem that many academics dream of - having expected 20 participants, more than 150 actually enrolled. This presented a problem for David, who had anticipated teaching a small class with lots of interaction and feedback. Initially planning on providing a weekly assignment for students, he soon calculated this would translate into 40+ hours of marking per week.
So he made the students mark each others work. For many, the instinctive response to peer assessment is “Ah, so the teacher wants a break?”. Yet peer grading is a well researched educational activity, which allows students to develop skills in giving and receiving feedback, develop self-reflection on their work and encourages participation in learning groups.
For David the experiment worked. Students were able to complete more practical tasks and learned to give constructive feedback while also becoming more analytical about their own work. Participation and learning improved over the course. Soon he worked with a friend to leverage technology in a more complex way to deliver peer assessment to a broader teaching audience. Peergrade was formed in 2015, page by page with constant feedback from users.
To use Peergrade, teachers must upload an assignment for their students. When all students have submitted work, students are assigned a classmate’s work to grade. This process is automatic and random, so the teacher doesn’t need to spend additional time sorting assignments. When students receive their feedback they can in turn give feedback on their feedback. The teacher has an overview over the whole process. The purpose of Peergrade is not to do all grading through peer assessment, but rather to increase the possibility for feedback without creating exponentially more work for the teacher.
The software can be repurposed for other activities as well. In one case a teacher wanted suggestions on what students wanted to learn next. So they asked students to upload a short video describing a new topic they were interested in. Students could watch their classmates contributions, give feedback and then vote on the preferred topics. Everyone was included in the decision of what next to study, using a more participatory method and involving them more than a simple vote or teacher suggestions.
Peergrade is based in Denmark but has users in every country. Similar to other EdTech companies Peergrade provides access to individuals for free but changes institutions for a more tailored, in-depth service. Peergrade is used by many universities and schools in Scandinavia and increasingly in the US. The platform is available in Danish and English.
The most interesting thing about Peergrade, aside from its leveraging of a relatively simple idea through the use of technology, is how it gets used. It would be easy to think that Peergrade is most enthusiastically embraced by HE institutions like universities or technical colleges. However the opposite is true. David has found that the younger the student, the more likely they are to embrace feedback assessment. Students seem to become less flexible as they get older and more reliant on the model of ‘teacher as source of all learning’. Primary school aged children are fascinated by the idea of giving feedback to their peers and getting to ‘play teacher’.
The fact that Peergrade caters to all ages, from primary schools to universities to corporate learning environments, can create complications sometimes. The platform needs to maintain a degree of genericness in terms of its design in order to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. While school kids love emojis, they’re not so popular in business environments apparently.
Ultimately Peergrade removes a burden from the shoulders of teachers without compromising the quality of education that students receive. Thanks to software innovation teachers can now ask themselves a liberating question - “What could I do if I didn’t have to do grading?”.
Peergrade is currently the largest, best known provider for peer assessment feedback. Yet there a plans afoot for new products and innovation. Keep an eye on the blog for the second part of the Peergrade story, looking into their upcoming ideas and how they plan to continue improving learning through technology.
To learn more about Peergrade, visit their website at www.peergrade.io.