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The pit, the pendulum and peer assessment

Michael Sturma
School of Social Inquiry, Murdoch University
"I put forward my arm, and shuddered to find that I had fallen at the very brink of a circular pit, whose extent, of course, I had no means of ascertaining . . . I struggled no more, but the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long, and final scream of despair." (Edgar Allan Poe)
As the merciless pendulum of increasing workloads swings inevitably downward, I believed salvation might be found in peer assessment. Instead I found an uncharted abyss of student resistance and growing administration.

I thought I approached the inclusion of peer-assessed oral presentations quite sensibly. Guidelines were included in the course Study Guide. An assessment workshop was run during one of the lecture sessions, in which students negotiated the criteria and form of assessment. As a result of this exercise a standardised evaluation sheet was produced and distributed. Students were divided into small groups, and rooms were booked where they could convene. A tutor or myself monitored most of the sessions, although students had the option of meeting at a time and place of their choice. While students discussed the presentations as a group, they completed their appraisals individually. Presenters were given an overall mark, but the individual markers remained anonymous. Students would have the opportunity to incorporate the feedback received, submitting an essay on the same topic as their presentation at the end of the semester.

Far from saving time, the arrangements I came up with seemed to multiply administrative tasks. But even worse, most of the students hated it. A typical comment at the end of semester evaluation went something like this: "Group marking of tutorial presentations not the way to go. Students are not qualified to mark other students."

Following my brief "scream of despair", participants will be invited to suggest ways of making peer assessment a viable component of course curriculum. Or, perhaps there is a consensus that it should be consigned to the waste bin all together.

Just as the French Army rescues Edgar Allan Poe's protagonist at the last moment from the jaws of the Spanish Inquisition, I hope you may rescue me from the yawning abyss of peer assessment.

Please cite as: Sturma, M. (2003). The pit, the pendulum and peer assessment. In Partners in Learning. Proceedings of the 12th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 11-12 February 2003. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2003/abstracts/sturma-abs.html

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Last revision: 16 Jan 2003. This URL: http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2003/abstracts/sturma-abs.html