Department: Institute of Dentistry
This project sought to first develop feedback literacies amongst Dentistry and Bachelor of Science students before then seeking their reflections on the effectiveness of peer feedback to support the learning and application of ethics. Insights were collected through a survey, a focus group interview, and student-led interviews.
Resoundingly, students valued feedback from their peers as well as the opportunity to provide feedback to others. Specifically, students found applying the task rubric to frame feedback increased their understanding of the assessment task and created empathy with the tutors responsible for marking the task. This was reported to have had a positive effect on the quality of their responses and writing. Students appreciated learning from others and reported that a range of different perspectives furthered their learning of ethics: the content focus for this task and module. Improvements to the peer feedback process emerging from the project include randomly allocating and anonymising students in the feedback process and introducing requirements for feedback to improve the quality of information exchanged between students.
Background & Context
Second-year Dentistry and first-year BSc students undertook a formative assignment focusing on the ethics of a case-based scenario. The assignment required students to analyse the ethical implications of a case involving a patient seeking dental care. Through an eLearning technology known as Teammates, students sought feedback on their assignment from peers of their choosing. Feedback was not provided anonymously with students knowing who they were to give and receive feedback from. This project arose through students requesting more feedback for this task in the past. Historically, all feedback had come from the Module Organiser or tutors.
- Develop student feedback literacies
- Utilise peer feedback to improve the quality of student responses
- Provide students with multiple perspectives on their work
- Shift the responsibility for learning from teacher to student (self-directed learning)
- Improve the learning and application of ethics
- Students were introduced to the project so they could first understand the objectives of the ethics case-based analysis task and the objectives of the peer feedback project.
- Students were provided with the task rubric and given the opportunity to seek clarification on what the rubric described with reference to the task.
- Students were provided an induction session on how to write and share quality peer feedback.
- Students analysed and responded to the case-based ethics scenario.
- Students selected who to engage in peer feedback with through the eLearning platform, Teammates.
- Students applied the feedback they had received to improve their analysis before the final submission along with feedback from a tutor. Tutors provided feedback in writing and held 20 minutes conferences with each student.
- A survey was administered to students which sought to understand their experiences and perspectives of the peer feedback process.
- A focus group of students were interviewed by a staff member to inquire further into their experiences and perspectives.
- A student-led series of one-to-one interviews took place that inquired into individual student’s experiences of the peer feedback process. These interviews were framed using Illeris’ (2004) triad of content, student emotion, and environment.
From Illeris’ (2004) triad, survey, focus group, and student-led interview responses suggest the peer feedback process improved the learning of content. This was confirmed in the subsequent summative exam which saw an improvement in student understanding of ethics content knowledge. Interestingly, students perceived the giving of feedback as being more valuable than receiving feedback as it helped them deepen their understanding of the task marking rubric as well as develop empathy with markers and an appreciation for the process of marking. Further, they developed greater metacognitive awareness and improved their self-regulated learning as they came to know their own strengths and areas in need of improvement. As a result of the peer feedback process, students came to appreciate the value of effective writing and described learning about what it means to be thrilled by writing and be bored by writing. This was particularly important in the learning of a subjective topic such as ethics, students felt. When queried as to their most significant learning from this project, the Module Organiser explained how remarkably their pedagogical beliefs about the effectiveness of peer feedback had changed. The Module Organiser did not anticipate the positive gains students would make in their learning and demonstration of ethics content knowledge resulting from peer feedback.
Illeris (2004) describes the emotional dimension of learning as encompassing mental energy, feelings and motivations. From student-led interviews it became clear that students felt a responsibility to their peers when it came to providing quality feedback. Further, students took up the attitude of a professional over that of friendship when providing information to their peers. Interestingly, students also described instances where they “sugarcoated” feedback which suggests they were concerned about how feedback might be received should it be perceived as overly critical. Students also felt that the peer feedback process helped them build stronger peer-to-peer and tutor-to-student professional relationships as they were able to empathise with others.
Students provided comment on their perspective of the environment in which the feedback process was engaged in. Generally, students spoke of a preference for giving feedback online compared to in person. Interview respondents reported being more candid in their comments when not sharing them face-to-face with the recipient as captured by one student:
“People are more likely to be honest when not facing you directly. They don’t want to impact your learning by being too generous. There is that pressure in person to say something nicer”
Students also agreed that writing and sharing feedback online gave them greater flexibility in terms of when feedback might be written. However, the online mode was also attributed to students not providing sufficient quality feedback with one student stating:
“I personally have experienced a couple of times where I’ve given paragraphs of detailed feedback and all I’ve received are a couple of lines of feedback in response which is honestly quite frustrating and annoying”
Although students described developing empathy with their peers and tutors, it might be that the online mode facilitates disengagement in the feedback process. Additional insights emerging from interview, focus group and survey responses were that anonymity may have been a barrier to student engagement with the feedback task and that the tone, sensitivity and sentiment captured in feedback was a concern for students. Student were also concerned that feedback was not of consistent quality which may be attributed to them not knowing how to provide meaningful and actionable feedback to their peers.
Key Points for Effective Practice
- Introduce students to the formative task rubric and train them in effective feedback practices so they understand how to frame feedback to their peers.
- Make feedback allocation random and anonymise task responses.
- Establish expectations for the quantity and nature of feedback provided to peers during the feedback process. Students suggested that this might include setting a minimum word count for feedback to encourage a base standard and an equitable experience for students.
- Facilitate peer feedback through an eLearning technology such as Workshop Activity in QMplus which affords students the flexibility and anonymity to provide candid feedback to their peers outside of timetabled hours.
Links to support resources
- Adding a Workshop Activity: https://elearning.qmul.ac.uk/guide/adding-a-workshop-activity/
- Workshop Activity Settings: https://docs.moodle.org/38/en/Workshop_settings
- Making reviewing anonymous in Workshop Activity: https://docs.moodle.org/311/en/Workshop_FAQ#How_can_I_make_reviewing_anonymous.3F
- You can also access an unedited recording of the Festival of Education presentation: Student Reflections on Peer Feedback
Illeris, K. (2004). Transformative learning in the perspective of a comprehensive learning theory. Journal of Transformative education, 2(2), 79-89.