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Using comparison to build skills and support students’ self-regulated learning

Prof Martin Fellenz is an Associate Professor in the Trinity Business School.

Here he talks about an assessment approach that leverages the individual work done by students as part of a larger group project to help them develop important skills in self-generating feedback and in providing and receiving peer feedback.

What might an ‘assignment brief’ look like for this assessment type in your context?  

The assignment brief focuses on the individual component of a larger group project that is designed to help students connect cutting edge research in behavioural negotiation theory to topics of theoretical and pragmatic interest in the area of negotiation. The group project requires student groups of about six members to collaborate and select a negotiation topic that is of both theoretical interest and practical relevance. The group level deliverable is a written report that provides an engaging introduction, a brief yet comprehensive literature review, and a discussion and evaluation of how recent published research contributions inform relevant behavioural negotiation theory and how it can guide applied negotiation practice.

The central individual element, prepared and submitted (and graded) individually by each group member, provides the basis for the group submission. This individual task requires each student to identify and select one high-quality, peer reviewed, cutting-edge empirical research article (published in the last five years) related to the chosen group topic that provides important theoretical and pragmatic contributions. Each student prepares and submits a two-page document that succinctly extracts, discusses, and evaluates the key contributions their chosen research article makes to negotiation theory and practice. The individual submissions of the group members form the core of the later group submission.

A first complete draft of the individual submission is shared with all group members, and two designated peer reviewers go through a three step process of
a) comparing the peer drafts to their own to identify improvement opportunities for their own draft;
b) provide peer feedback to their two colleagues to suggest improvements to their draft; and
c) integrating the feedback received from two peer reviewers to further develop their own draft.
 
After students complete these steps they have another week to finalise their individual submission.

What are the main advantages of this assessment type?  

The assignment itself helps students develop important skills related to searching and reviewing research literature. The comparison and peer review steps (a – c) help students develop important skills in how to evaluate their own work (step a), how to provide feedback (b), and how to integrate peer feedback into their own work (c).

Students report that these steps help them to understand the formal assignment requirements much better, and that especially step (a) provides important insights into their own work and their learning. Moreover, they report that this process provides them with a realistic and valuable opportunity to provide and work with peer feedback.

Other advantages include that the quality of individual submissions is noticeably higher after comparison and peer review steps, and all group members are motivated to make high-quality individual contributions to the group project which addresses the perennial free-rider problem with group projects.

What are the main challenges for using this assessment type?  

There are a number of deadlines that students need to meet to make sure all participants receive the peer drafts and the feedback. Adaptive release functions on Blackboard are helpful for managing this, as are clear individual penalties for late submissions (even though the actual individual submissions of draft submission and peer feedback are not individually graded). 

Why do you use this particular assessment type in a digital context? 

The whole draft submission, comparison and peer feedback process can be handled online, so this approach suits an. Online teaching environment extremely well.

What advice would you give a colleague thinking about using this type of assessment?  

This particular type of assessment works equally well in online and in-person teaching. It places the onus for learning from the activities on the students, so clear explanation of the process and initial guidance is helpful.

Anyone with a student-centred teaching philosophy that values students’ agency for learning will find it very easy to integrate this approach. Especially the comparison activity, which I use in many other ways in this and other modules, helps students recognise their own role in and responsibility for learning. The more students recognise this, the more they will develop relevant skillsets and mindsets that make them active, self-regulated and self-directed learners. For this reason this approach is less suitable for colleagues that want to keep tight control of module content and the students’ learning process.

Do you recommend any resources or technologies to support this type of digital assessment?  

For this type of assessment, Blackboard works quite well for setting up groups. Students can email their peers within Blackboard.



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