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Using Self and Peer Evaluation as Alternative Grading Approaches

Mon Jan 17, 2022 at 07:30 AM

Bridget Kies is an Assistant Professor of Film Studies and Production at Oakland University. This piece is part of a series of OU faculty sharing alternative grading approaches.

Faculty often lament the amount of time spent providing feedback compared to the amount of time students spend reviewing that feedback. In the age of learning management systems like Moodle, the student can simply log in and see a grade, without bothering to read the feedback or to download a carefully marked-up assignment the faculty member has thoughtfully attached. In the pre-digital homework era, my colleagues and I joked about spending hours adding comments to an essay, only to watch the student immediately flip to the last page to see the grade. 

Faculty frustration at feedback has existed for years, long before the age of Moodle, but the problem isn’t always reticent students. A 2016 study on undergraduate psychology students, for instance, found that students were appreciative of faculty feedback but lacked an understanding of how to implement it - when they even understood it in the first place. Many of the students in the study expressed that the language faculty used was “posh” and inaccessible and that references like “weak paragraph structure” were too abstract to be of use. 

Because of findings in studies like this, scholars of pedagogy have suggested faculty shift their mindsets about qualitative feedback. David Nicol argues that faculty think of feedback as yet another lecture opportunity - a monologue at the students - and advocated instead for a dialogue-focused process in which both students and faculty share their feedback on a project. The recent rise in popularity of alternative grading makes it timely to revisit the idea of dialogic feedback. 

Instead of faculty spending hours producing feedback, a more effective model is one in which students evaluate themselves and their peers first, before faculty even touch their work. Not only does this save faculty time and labor, but it is better for students because it gives them an opportunity to critically examine their work and that of peers and to provide evaluation in terms they and their peers understand. In this teaching tip, I outline some of the strategies I use for self and peer evaluation as an alternative to traditional faculty-driven feedback and grading.

Self Evaluation

Prior to a major assignment, such as a long essay or presentation, I work with students to review the assignment prompt and course learning outcomes. I ask students to think about what is reasonable to evaluate in the assignment based on these items. For example, if the learning outcome for the course says students will know how to correctly use technical film terminology, should we expect a student to use specific terms like long shot in their presentation? If they use general language (the camera is far away) or use terms incorrectly, do we consider that a weakness in the presentation? Together we formulate a rubric for evaluation. This rubric is then used by the students to evaluate their own work. Often we also include questions that give students a chance to expand on their evaluation: What do you think was the strength of your project? What do you think was your project’s greatest weakness? With more time, how would your project have evolved?

My job then becomes telling students whether I agree with their evaluation of themselves and their work, rather than spending hours trying to figure out what pieces of advice to offer each individually. It also helps the student take ownership of the idea of learning and improving because their job is now to identify strengths and weakness and make suggestions for revision, rather than passively receiving my suggestions.

Peer Evaluation

Peer evaluation can also be an effective alternative to grading. Peers can use the same rubric to evaluate each other during projects that are shared in class, such as presentations or essays that are peer-reviewed. 

I also solicit peer evaluations for any major project that involves group work. Each member of the group is asked to evaluate everyone in the group - including themselves. This is a chance for them to report any potential problems the group has had (such as one student abandoning all work), but it is also an opportunity for them to think about how the collaborative process has contributed to the assignment outcome. These peer evaluations are never a whole substitute for my grading or feedback, since personal problems that I’m not aware of may skew the evaluations students give each other. But by comparing multiple peer evaluations, I can quickly get a sense of how the students view each other’s work, and in turn students can easily see a weakness in their project is indeed a weakness, agreed upon by many, not just the faculty member’s petty obsession.


Using self and peer evaluation moves the focus away from a top-down model in which students are passive recipients and away from the frustrating tradition of faculty exhausting themselves to provide feedback to students who don’t use it. Self evaluations give students an opportunity to think more critically about their own work; peer evaluations help students stay focused during group projects and allow them to learn by receiving multiple instances of similar feedback. These are just two of the interrelated ways I approach alternatives to traditional grading and feedback.


Nicol, David. “From Monologue to Dialogue: Improving Written Feedback Processes in Mass Higher Education.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35, no. 5 (2010): 501-517.

Winstone, Naomi E., Robert A. Nash, James Rowntree, and Michael Parker. “‘It’d Be Useful, but I Wouldn’t Use It’: Barriers to University Students’ Feedback Seeking and Recipience.” Studies in Higher Education 42, no. 11 (2017): 2026-2041.

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About the Author

Bridget Kies is an Assistant Professor of Film Studies and Production. She teaches courses on film history and gender/sexuality in film and media. Outside of the classroom, Bridget is co-host of the Cabot Cove Gazette, a weekly podcast about the iconic 80s TV series Murder, She Wrote.

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