Teresa Smallbone

  • Hitting the right buttons: Improving student learning through student peer review

    Teresa Smallbone, Oxford Brookes University, UK

    Sarah Quinton, Oxford Brookes University, UK

    Session 3e, Tuesday 10.10

    Research paper

    Theme addressed:

    Skills development and lifelong learning

    Aims of paper

    This paper explores the use of taught peer review by students of draft assignments to improve student learning. It reviews the scant literature on the subject, describes the practice that has been developed on a number of undergraduate modules in a UK Business School, presents the results of some primary data collection amongst staff and students and concludes by producing some guidelines for good practice.


    Essay and report writing is a university requirement that aims to produce 'higher level' thinking and students need to be encouraged to engage in it. Student peer review offers students the opportunity to present their initial ideas without fear of the work being marked, and may improve learning. In addition, in class student peer review is a transparent way for tutors to check on student understanding and interpretation prior to marking.

    A review of the literature on peer evaluation and assessment suggests that qualitative feedback (Somervell 1993) in peer review is a form of peer assessment. When students undertake peer review, a responsible attitude is taken (Venables and Sumit 2003) and they view it as an opportunity for further development of their work. Many students participating in peer review put a lot of effort into reviewing work (Robinson 2002). Moreover, peer comments use student language and this leads to more effective communication of the feedback (Higgins et al 2002). Marcoulides and Simkin (1991) found that students could be consistent and fair in their assessments though Dochy et al (1999) found mixed results with question marks over the comparability of student as opposed to tutor feedback. Robinson's 2002 study showed that the quality of reviews was variable with several participants disappointed in response to their efforts as reviewers. The authors’ experience suggests that students are serious reviewers, engage with the process and are eager to receive their peers' feedback, taking notice of comments and acting upon them. This supports the view that intrinsic motivation (Ryan and Deci 2000) and deep learning by students (Entwistle 1987) can be enhanced by this activity.


    The data collected for this research forms part of a wider Business School FDTL project on assessment. This research is a qualitative enquiry incorporating mixed data sources to establish the value of student peer review as a way to enhance student learning. Data was collected from semi-structured interviews with final year Marketing students who had two years’ experience of participating in student peer review on different modules. Interviews were carried out with staff who employ student peer review on their courses and with final year students who completed an open-ended questionnaire which elicited their perceptions of the value of student peer review. Content analysis was undertaken of the written peer reviews completed by second and final year Marketing undergraduates. In addition, the transcripts of the interviews and the questionnaires were analysed using NVivo.


    The primary and secondary data analysis identified some important issues for both staff and students in the design and implementation of these strategies to support learning. From these a set of guidelines for student peer review to improve student learning have been established and are discussed in the paper.


    • Dochy F, Segers M, Slujsmans D, (1999). The use of self-, peer- and co-assessment in higher education: a review, Studies in Higher Education, 24, no 3, 331-350
    • Entwistle N, (1987). A model of the teaching-learning process, in JTE Richardson, W Eysenck and DW Piper (eds) Student learning: research in education and cognitive psychology. Milton Keynes, Open University.
    • Higgins R, Hartley P and Skelton A, (2002). The conscientious consumer: reconsidering the role of assessment feedback in student learning. Studies in Higher Education, 27, 1, 53-64.
    • Marcoulides GA and Simkin MG (1991). Evaluating student papers; the case for peer review.Journal of Education for Business, 67, 2, 80-84
    • Robinson J (2002). In Search of Fairness: an application of multi-reviewer anonymous peer review in a large class. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 26, 2, 183-192
    • Ryan R and Deci E (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67
    • Somervell H, (1993). Issues in assessment, enterprise and higher education: the case for self-, peer and collaborative assessment. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 18, 221-233
    • Venables A and Sumit R (2003). Enhancing scientific essay writing using peer assessment,Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 40, 3, 281-290