Reduce free-riding and low-quality feedback with Participation Grading (Feedback series)

Nhi Nguyen
Rebecca LeBoeuf
Rebecca LeBoeuf
July 7, 2021
Table of Contents

Peer feedback has proven itself to be an effective educational approach to stimulate collaborative and active learning in students. However, in practice the feedback produced often remains superficial and lacks critical depth. That's why teachers from Wageningen University & Research came up with an innovative approach called Participation Grading - to increase the quality of peer feedback, level of participation, and offer a safe learning environment. In this article, we will explore this innovative approach: its development, implementation, and impact.

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What's wrong with peer feedback?

No one can deny the benefits of peer feedback in improving students' final work while promoting the transfer of lifelong skills. However, there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome. Implementation often faces two main issues: 1) low feedback quality - peer feedback comments are superficial and not critical enough and 2) free-riding - students lacking motivation contribute relatively less than their teammates.

A common solution is to rate the peer-assigned grades based on the quantitative aspect (the timely delivery of feedback and the amount of feedback delivered). This solution is often criticized for lack of depth and qualitative aspect [4].

Instructors from Wageningen University & Research came up with a solution to increase students’ motivation to engage in the peer review process, while enhancing the quality of the feedback produced. Let’s take a look at what Participation Grading is and how it works.

What is Participation Grading?

Participation Grading is grounded in the principle of “Virtual Action Learning” (VAL), which emphasizes the demonstration of students’ competencies via delivering information about their learning activities [2] [3].

Therefore, the approach involves grading only the best contribution to a peer feedback assignment, selected by students. These ‘best contributions’ function as evidence of a student’s competence as a reviewer.

Why is Participation Grading effective?

Participation Grading is believed to:

1. Enhance the quality of peer feedback and the level of participation as it requires students to pay more attention to producing good feedback for their peers,

2. Offer a safe learning environment: when students select their best contributions themselves, this guarantees that their errors or mistakes do not influence their grade,

3. Deliver a scalable teaching method which can be applied in different learning contexts,

4. Save time for teachers when grading the peer feedback, which can be applied in different learning contexts. [4]

How to exercise Participation Grading?

Participation Grading can be implemented without a specific learning platform. However, in order to optimize both the selection of the best contributions and the grading process, Wageningen University and FeedbackFruits joined hands to develop a platform for Participation Grading, which is now available as a beta feature in the Group Member Evaluation tool.

A complete process of Participation Grading can be summarized as follows:

1. Assignment submission: Students complete and hand in the assignment, which can be in written, graphical, audio, video, or powerpoint format.

2. Peer review: Students provide peer feedback for their peers’ work based on a teacher-designed rubric.

3. Best contributions selection: From all the produced peer comments, the students select which they think are their best ones.

4. Peer feedback processing: Students study the received reviews and respond to the reviewers’ comments (if required by teachers). Teachers provide feedback on both the original assignment and the peer feedback.

5. Best contributions grading (teacher): Teachers grade best contributions within the peer review context

6. Reflection: Students write reflections based on received feedback [4].

The Participation Grading was adopted in 4 BA and MA courses at the Wageningen University & Research. Each of these courses involved a Peer Review and/or Online discussion assignment to which Participation Grading was added in either a cross-over or nonequivalent group design [4]. Details of the course architecture can be found in the image below.

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