How Do You Encourage Peer Feedback for Group Projects? Here's My Draft Badging System

 

 What methods do you use for peer feedback in your classes?  I'd love to learn more about how others help students learn the crucial life skill of giving, accepting, learning from, and improving from feedback offered by their peers.  I use the open web badging system that developers on Stack Overflow and other systems use, where you award badges if and only when they are deserved--but you don't give negative feedback.   My class will also have a formal "design crit" session for each project at the draft and the penultimate draft stage and then at the final stage.   But this feedback is more about what members are contributing to the success of their team.   So no negative feedback---except if you get back three sheets from your colleagues and find you have not been awarded a single badge in any category.  That is sobering---but also an opportunity to contribute.   

 

This kind of structured way of learning how to give feedback on one's collaboration is rare in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences--which is one reason students hate project work so much.  We put them in teams but rarely give them help in how to manage a team.  In business, this is considered one of the most challenging aspects of any job yet we expect our students, who have been trained by a lifetime of individual achievement on timed tests, to be able to work out collaboration in process in order to deliver a great final product that uses all the talents of a team.  That is not fair.  We act as if collaboration comes naturally and easy.  Ha!  We all know it doesn't.  So why do we ask our students to do it with no training, no preparation?   So I look to the art and design fields that  have established traditions in feedback to help my students structure their feedback rather than vent (or suppress) their frustration when collaboration fails.   Such "crit" is considered a lifeline of the arts where, as my architect friends say, the only cruel feedback is none:  No one should be left to struggle alone with a blank page.

 

How do you structure feedback opportunities in your classes?

 

This is a draft of the feedback badging system I'm going to try this semester.    It's hard to see the grid I'm using (unless you have a very large screen) so let me describe it.   On the left column are the individual names of the Project Team members.  Across the top, I've posted about a dozen categories (all editable by the students, see instructions below).   These are for both skills and collaborative contributions:  Web design, artistic desing, learning design, creativity, firestarter (ideas), Implementer (gets stuff done), Organizer, Finisher, Good spirit, Problem solver, Leader, OTHER, Overall Great Collaborative Partner.

 

 

Below is the draft of the instructions to the students.   Customizing the categories the first time they meet as a team is probably the single most important ingredient towards a successful collaboration for the semester.   These students will be taking course content, holding online discussion groups, formally interviewing and posting Dan Ariely and me on camera about a series of topics in social science and literature (self-control, dishonesty, racism, etc), and then working all term to turn that 45-minute segment into the most creative, interactive public open online learning course imaginable.   We think this may well be the first student-created Massive (or Meaningful) Online Open Course . . .    

 

Here's the assignment for the students (in the text below the grid):. 

Peer badging:   First collaboration exercise:   10 minutes:  Project team decides what goes in the twelve (or more or less) boxes.  Accept or edit these.  Add others deemed important to the success of the team.   20 minutes:  Reassemble as a class and each team presents their grid.   10 minutes: Reconvene in project teams and decide to edit or keep original grid.   [New criteria can be added throughout the term].   Post all the grids to the EVALUATION page of the website. 

 

[NB:  peer badging grids won’t be public.  The blank grids will be, though, so others can learn from your thinking about the ingredients of collaboration.   The badges will also be used  in the written  final evaluations for each student; those will include a paragraph on which badges were awarded by team mates over the course of the term. ] 

 

Every three weeks, when teams assemble, the project team meeting will begin with a 2 minute (no more) exercise in which each team member anonymously fills out the grid awarding badges to the other three members.   No negative badges. The team leader will collect all four and unfold them and show them to the group. Award only one badge per category [this may change]. 

 

This is a great way of seeing at a glance  who is contributing what to the team and for everyone to see where they are having an impact on their teammates.   If you feel you are contributing but you are not being recognized, speak up!  Now is the time to air this because, unaired, these resentments fester and kill productive trust and collaborative success.   If you feel you are contributing something that isn't  on the grid, add that to the “OTHER” category for the next crit session. 

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I'd love feedback on this draft feedback system.  What do you think?  How do you orchestrate this in your own classes?

Joe Beckmann

Soft Skills

Peer assessments, particularly of the kinds of skills you are scaffolding in your badging system, actually helps students build teams - "you're good at what I'm NOT good at, we both lack HIS skills, and I've got some organizing talents, I guess..." - since they can then give feedback to each other about how well they assessed themselves, as well as on how well they performed. That's one of several reasons for those soft skills categories - it doesn't pay to claim credit for something you'll then have to show!

But, while on those credits, I wonder if you ever thought to link those skills to some established, mainstreamed categories, and thereby produce a document students could use in jobs, careers, or other courses?? Learning Matters (the PBS education source) also sponsored a program funded by Kellogg to create and develop what they called a "Verified Resume," in which eight skill areas were the focus of self-assessment and teacher review. And the Verified Resume as itself designed to reflect the core "soft skills" of the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) of 1992. That Commission had a broad cross section of unions, employers, states and federal agencies brainstorm many of the same categories of your scale. Furthermore, many states - like Massachusetts - use those same skills as criteria in evaluation their summer youth employment programs, asking for starting and then final appraisals on most of those same criteria.0

Although I never realized it in 40 years of teaching, kids are remarkably honest about their self-appraisals when there is no grade and "objective" criteria involved. And that honesty trumps a lot of those criteria. With a group of summer kids a few years ago, as part of my aging pattern, I asked them to score themselves since I could never remember their names after an initial introduction. One kid gave himself all high scores, and the others simply laughed. "You don't want to do that," they said, "since then you'll have to live up to it. Score well where you do well, and we'll all do better when we do it together." From the mouths of babes.

Finally, badges and portfolio criteria are interesting in themselves, but far more lively when they can be illustrated with products of real relevance. As one student said, "I never knew I knew anything until I had to teach it to someone else." And she did....know the subject and become confident with the skills she used in acquiring that knowledge.