Instructor Feedback and Peer Feedback: A Comparison

Did my experience of receiving both types of feedback meet expectations? In short, no.

All feedback is useful.

At least, that’s what I thought up until I actually took the time to think about it. What I immediately realized was that instructor feedback should always be more constructive than peer feedback; after all, as the designer of the assessment in question, the instructor would have strongly developed opinions about what constitutes proper fulfillment of assessment objectives. Moreover, the instructor would likely have seen multiple versions of the completed assessment, further informing the instructor of the general tendencies, misconceptions, and exceptional cases of completed assessments. As the sole expert on the assessment, it is the instructor who should easily provide the best feedback.

Peers, in comparison, are woefully unequipped to offer expert feedback, usually possessing a still-under-constructivism understanding of related content knowledge, but it is at least paired with the fresh experience of their own recent attempt at completing the assessment. At worst, peer assessment is a messy attempt at divining and comparing each other’s misunderstandings. At best, perhaps peer assessment could be an exercise in academic empathy: if I made the same early decisions as my peer on this assessment, what would have been the result?

What does research say about peer feedback? A perfunctory summary based on a single research paper: it can be both useful and useless, but it can also be improved (Geilen, Peeters, Dochy, Onghena & Struyven, 2010). Perhaps the best takeway from Geilen is that peer feedback which provides justifications–i.e., accurate reasoning for an assessment’s qualities–is most effective.


My experience in receiving both instructor and peer feedback on my assessment of Canvas as a vehicle for assessment proved enlightening, though not for the reasons you might think. I believe my eagerness to receive the feedback raised my expectations unreasonably high, despite my own struggle to give constructive feedback to a peer myself earlier in the week. I am also a bad gift receiver, as my wife constantly reminds me around the holidays. I would utterly fail the avocado test that this 3-yr passed with flying colors.

So, needless to say—hopefully, I’ve primed you enough—I was disappointed in both versions of feedback! My instructor, aside from failing me now, provided feedback about being clearer around one of the assessment objectives. This is actually good feedback, but I wasn’t particularly receptive to it for reasons that I will not divulge because I am stubborn. I suppose I believed the issue of clarity to be unimportant, as the objective was met implicitly. My peer offered a suggestion to further explore solutions for a problem I discovered but had already explored solutions for. This feedback, which I was even less receptive to, turned out to be more helpful than I initially thought it would be, after I made myself explore potential extensions to Canvas.

Geilin (2010) did mention that feedback was constrained by how well it was received. I am such a curmudgeon. Has there been any research done on the correlation between age, the avocado test, and how peer feedback is received? Because I would make for quite the grumpy data point.


There is one final thing I need to mention–digital assessment can be helpful, especially during this time of pandemic. And despite the many fears of privacy invasion, digital assessment is also proving to be unenforcible by young students who are simply opting out en masse. Take that privacy doom naysayers! You can’t doomify digital assessments if nobody is actually doing them!

References

Gielen, S., Peeters, El, Dochy, F., Onghena, P., Struyven, K. Improving the effectiveness of peer feedback for learning. Learning and Instruction, 20(4), 304-315. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2009.08.007

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