Continuous Engagement

We have been using PeerWise this year with our first years. We have given it 10% of two 15-credit modules and the mark is primarily an effort based grade. Our students have to write two questions (with explanation), answer 10 and give feedback on 10. They must demonstrate this level of activity every 2 weeks, to a total of 5 deadlines.

For those unfamiliar with PeerWise, it is a web based site that allows students to write multiple choice questions. The students are anonymous to each other but moderating staff can see identifiers. The theory behind PeerWise is that deeper learning occurs, alongside confronting misconceptions, when teaching a topic. The web interface is rich and allows for a great deal of creativity in question setting (inclusion of YouTube clips, diagrams, equations etc), and also for some detail to be provided in the explanations. Some of our students have made the very best of this opportunity and have written far more questions than required, truly taking the spirit of ‘continuous engagement’ to heart.

I presented on PeerWise back in January at our Sharing Good Practice Event, and true to form, created a screen cast of it.

PeerWise replaced assessed problem sheets that we used last year. Every fortnight we would set a brief problem sheet, mark them and return them sometimes going over the answers with the class. Sometimes we provided model answers. The marks were effort based. This did and didn’t work – most students made good effort to complete the problems, and it highlighted misconceptions very efficiently. It did add substantially to marking loads however, and it was frustrating to mark the sheets quickly (2 hour turn around) and not spend time giving individual feedback.

Some disadvantages of PeerWise that I’ve noticed lately include the ability to find multiple choice questions on the internet and just copy them in. I don’t mind students using those questions as inspiration or using the question then writing an exceptional explanation, referencing the question source, but passing it off as their own work? Not so much. The other disadvantage is predictable – it’s another deadline so a significant quantity of work towards it happens in the four hours before the deadline. This, in turn, reduces the available questions for the students who work more continuously.  Our students haven’t quite got the hang of improving explanations and critiquing questions yet – that’s an area for development for next year. The other gripe is very minor – it’s another account username and password. And that’s an additional barrier to engagement for some.

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