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Notes on Teaching and Learning

Engaging Your Students Through the Use of Peer Review

January 27, 2022
ND Learning

By Crystal DeJaegher

Are you looking for ways to help students grow their skills when it comes to critiquing the work of others?  Would you like to assist them in their development of lifelong skills (e.g., preparing and receiving feedback, communicating with others effectively, collaboration) which translate to life outside of the classroom?  Consider incorporating peer review and using the Peer Review and rubric tools in Canvas to facilitate the process. 

Peer review assignments assist students in the development of soft, transferable skills including communication, critical thinking, collaboration/teamwork, and awareness (Wu, Chanda, and Willison, 2014; Suñol et al., 2016).  Peer review is a one approach to keep students learning and involved, which leads them to engage in self-regulation (Zimmerman, 1990) and active learning (Bonwell & Eison, 1991) and to take more responsibility for managing their own learning (e.g., Logan, 2009; Volante, Beckett, Reid & Drake, 2010).

In becoming a part of the peer review process, students engage in metacognitive reflection.  They learn what is appreciated in an answer and can successfully locate common errors and deficiencies (Mirmotahari & Berg, 2008) and by understanding the criteria outlined by the instructor, students can more easily commit to and articulate a judgement (Tai et al., 2017).  This opens the door for collaborative exchange of ideas and feedback among students by creating a space for dialogue where students better understand standards and produce better work in the future (Yucel et al., 2014).  Students’ participation in peer review is likely to create a more cohesive classroom community.

Planning and Getting Started with Peer Review

Planning for peer review can be a substantial time investment.  It is more than simply identifying the assignment and the evaluative criteria. From the 30,000 ft. view, you can look at the entire whole of a semester class and figure out how to build in peer review components across the term in ways that make the most sense.  Depending on your class content, it may be that you want to incorporate peer review into the rhythm of a recurrent project cycle.  If you aren’t ready to dive in headfirst with peer review, you can certainly look at discrete elements in your course–perhaps a midterm and a final essay or project submission–where peer review might be the most useful and utilize it there.  Whatever the case may be, you’ll want to clearly identify what you hope to achieve and what you want your students to accomplish through the peer review process.  It is also highly recommended that you plan out and model a peer review workflow by conducting an in-class ‘mock’ review.  This type of exercise helps ensure that your students are on the same page with your expectations.

When all of this work is done, identify an assignment (or more) and develop evaluation criteria–generally, this works really well in the form of a rubric which can also be built directly on Canvas and associated with your assignment.   You should also take care in planning how you will evaluate students for their peer review performance to make sure that students aren’t just providing perfunctory selections in a rubric or making comments which have no chance at making a substantial impact on their peer’s next iteration of the assignment.

Use Cases/Example

Peer Review assessments can be used as a formative (i.e., check learning in progress) or a summative (i.e., end of learning activity) to gauge student progress.   

Use Case #1: Papers and Projects (Summative)

For written assignments, particularly those which are guided by a formalized writing process (e.g., in the humanities, research, etc.), peer review can be especially helpful to students as they work their way from an initial draft to final draft.  For example, students are provided an assignment with the rubric criteria, along with a deadline for the 1st draft.  Students submit the first draft and are automatically assigned a peer review partner in Canvas (this can also be done manually).  A defined window of time should be provided for peer review feedback; again this is where modeling feedback and responding to feedback can be helpful skillbuilding for your students.  The students make modifications based on feedback provided by their peers and submit a final draft to the instructor for grading.  One benefit of this, from an instructor’s perspective, is that — with adequate scaffolding and preparation, students should be able to engage in this process in a way which increases the quality of the final draft products received.

Peer review is also useful for projects which contain several stages or multiple components which will be submitted over the course of a given semester.  Much like papers, a multi-stage or multi-component project can be evaluated in sequence.  One example I have from teaching is where students use the entire semester to create a project portfolio.  Each project in that portfolio goes through a peer review cycle where students draft, peer review, and submit a final draft for instructor assessment.

Use Case #2: Discussions

Online discussion forums or threads can be tricky to implement as part of your class participation or assessment strategy.  Students often go through the motions and do not always make meaningful connections or contributions in these forums, typically doing enough to earn points, but not always in an authentically engaging way.  Adding peer review to a graded discussion in Canvas is another application of peer review as a strategy to promote authentic engagement and involvement in class conversations.

Canvas Confessions:  Peer Review

As an instructor myself, I find peer review to be extremely useful in engaging students in project work.  Students in my class work all semester long to construct a portfolio of multimedia artifacts that they will be using as professional representation when they enter the job market post-graduation.  I am a proponent of using rubrics for peer review and for providing students with the same criteria which I would use to grade.  I would flag that the expectation for them is to provide peer feedback–they are not being asked to ‘play teacher’ and assess the work in the same way.  It’s important that they know their peer feedback is critical and will ideally advance their peer’s learning in a given domain as well as their own.  I underscore that the role of peer reviewer is not one of being an editor–simply to get them to go beneath the surface of the work they review.

Though our students often come to us as novices when it comes to formal assessment and evaluation, modeling, scaffolding, and guidelines seem to work together to improve final project submissions (which are the ones I assess for a grade).  The key in all of this is your commitment and clear communication.

While I’ve used peer review strategies with both undergraduate and graduate students, I would suggest that undergraduate students may benefit from additional scaffolding, modeling,  or opportunities to practice.  For instance, you might have them only focus on a subset of the criteria in your rubric during a particular stage of the work giving them a narrower focus and providing feedback on the most critical criteria at that stage. Including peer review will go miles to enhance skill development and towards class community building.  

Canvas Peer Review Resources

Additional Resources for Peer Review


Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. 1991 ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports. ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, The George Washington University, One Dupont Circle, Suite 630, Washington, DC 20036-1183.

Logan, E. (2009). Self and peer assessment in action. Practitioner Research in Higher Education, 3(1), 29-35.

Mirmotahari, O., & Berg, Y. (2018, April). Structured peer review using a custom assessment program for electrical engineering students. In 2018 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON) (pp. 999-1006). IEEE.

Ndoye, A. (2017). Peer/Self Assessment and Student Learning. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 29(2), 255-269.

Reinholz, D. (2016). The assessment cycle: a model for learning through peer assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(2), 301-315.

Suñol, J. J., Arbat, G., Pujol, J., Feliu, L., Fraguell, R. M., & Planas-Lladó, A. (2016). Peer and self-assessment applied to oral presentations from a multidisciplinary perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(4), 622-637.

Tai, J. H. M., Canny, B. J., Haines, T. P., & Molloy, E. K. (2017). Implementing peer learning in clinical education: a framework to address challenges in the “real world”. Teaching and learning in medicine, 29(2), 162-172.

Volante, L., Beckett, D., Reid, J., & Drake, S. (2010). Teachers’ Views on Conducting Formative Assessment within Contemporary Classrooms. Online Submission.

Wu, C., Chanda, E., & Willison, J. (2014). Implementation and outcomes of online self and peer assessment on group based honours research projects. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(1), 21-37.

Yucel, R., Bird, F. L., Young, J., & Blanksby, T. (2014). The road to self-assessment: exemplar marking before peer review develops first-year students’ capacity to judge the quality of a scientific report. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(8), 971-986.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1990). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview. Educational psychologist, 25(1), 3-17.