As part of developing an e-learning module on medical microbiology, AROM’s Jack Leo implemented new peer feedback activities in autumn 2020 to provide more opportunities for students to receive formative feedback on their coursework. The module material was mostly online, and the students were expected to go through the material independently. There were five 1-hour support sessions that were run online in autumn 2020. Apart from these support sessions, there were no opportunities for formative feedback in earlier years, and students did not receive any individual feedback. Therefore, Jack decided to implement the peer feedback activities for the 2020 module. For these, students were assigned to groups of four and they were encouraged to organise an hour’s meeting to give each other feedback on their coursework. Some written guidance was given in the module materials, but the activities were unsupervised and participation was voluntary.
As part of Jack’s academic apprenticeship in higher education, he undertook action research to evaluate the effect of the peer feedback activities on student satisfaction and learning. Of 54 students, 13 answered an online questionnaire on the feedback activities. of these, only one actually took part in a peer feedback activity. Therefore, the effect on student satisfaction could not be fully evaluated. However, the questionnaire did give insight into why most students did not participate. Many respondents cited a lack of time. This has been an issue this year, with the pandemic adding an extra layer of difficulty to what would already have been a busy year. Some students also noted that they felt uncomfortable with sharing their work. As students have not been able to meet in person, a lack of trust and cohesion within the cohort is understandable.
Based on the online activity of the assigned groups, it seems that only a few students actually participated in the peer feedback activity. The one student who did take part and responded was largely positive towards the activities, and they found them to be useful. Some other students said they would have liked to take part, but other members in their group were not willing to meet. Several others noted that, in hindsight, taking part in the peer feedback activities might have been helpful.
These findings could be useful for colleagues planning to implement similar kinds of unsupervised peer feedback activities. It seems that building trust within the cohort would be an important aspect to improve to promote participation. Jack will do this by including preliminary group activities (hopefully face to face rather than live) in future iterations of the module to allow the members to get to know each other before embarking on the extracurricular peer feedback activities.