Blackboard Battles: self- and peer-assessment tool

My first years are busily doing peer assessment of video presentations they’ve created. We’ve got a good theme this year, ‘chemistry goes to the movies’ and I’m enjoying watching the presentations myself. I’ve run this assignment for several years and it has evolved in the way these things do. The basics are that the students make screencast/video presentations on a theme, do self-assessment, upload them to our VLE, do peer-assessment of a small number and finish off by redoing their self-assessment.  I moderate, provide tech support and generally impose order.

There is lots of discussion to be had about the validity of such an assessment regime but let’s talk about the technology. When I started this assignment, I used Blackboard’s group function to allocate each student to a small group then had them upload the presentations as attachments/embedded into a blog post on a group blog. Self- and peer- assessment was carried out within groups using Google Forms. The advantages of this approach:

  1. I had some control over the composition of the groups and could ensure mixed ability, gender balanced, ‘not all mates’ groups.
  2. I could add/remove students from groups as required even after work had started.
  3. It was really easy to edit the blog posts if a link wasn’t working or a file type wasn’t right.

The disadvantages of this approach outweighed the advantages particularly as the student number increased from 60 to 100, and include:

  1. managing and collating the self- and peer- assessment grades and feedback for that many students (e.g 100 students, 2 self-assessments, 4 peer-assessments = 600 data sets) from Google Forms was a nightmare of copy-paste edit.
  2. Students could edit their blog posts after the assessment deadline (this was also an advantage in certain contexts)
  3. it was possible for groups to agree to mark one another highly.

Last year I stumbled on the Blackboard Self- and Peer- assessment tool which is more or less designed to help automate the process I describe above. Students submit answers to questions, which can be free text or uploading a video or putting in a link, and then when the submission period is over, peer-and self- assessment are managed by blackboard. The students are automatically allocated a specific number to do, and at the end of the assessment period, everything (comments and grades) can be dumped into grade centre for the student to review. Despite my problems with this tool, that facility makes it far more useful to me administering this assignment.

The key problems I have with this tool are:

  1. I have control over who marks who’s presentation.  It would be good to be able to modify the groups or re-allocate students. Each year there are a group of students who probably wont submit on time, if at all and my preference would be to ensure they are allocated equally so that no student has to peer-assess two students like this.
  2. The marking allocations seem to be done when the assignment is setup and so students who have left the course between that date and the start of peer-assessment are allocated peer-assessment to be carried out, and for their work to be peer-assessed. It feels like a ‘roster synch’ function needs to be in place to allow peer-assessment to only take place by those students registered on the module at the time peer-assessment starts.
  3. Students who do not submit their work are allocated for peer-assessment so instructions must be given to award marks of zero and other students feel uncomfortable doing this. There should be a bit in set-up where I can select whether or not I want non-submissions to be included in peer-assessment or not. The default should be that non-submitting students do not have their empty submissions made available for peer-assessment but that they can still take part in peer-assessing others. That’s still a valuable learning experience.
  4. The deadlines are inflexible and require careful planning. You must set three deadlines, one for the submission of the work, one for the start of peer-assessment and one for the end of peer assessment.  I set the submission deadline 7 days after the published deadline to accommodate my institution’s 7-day late policy on accepting work. It also allows a 7 day buffer to check each submission and ask students to edit and fix issues with presentation format. It would be good for a ‘deadline/accept work after deadline’ facility to be present. Similarly, I set the final deadline for peer- assessment to be 7 days after the published deadline. It is difficult to accommodate extensions for good cause with this system.
  5. I cannot edit submissions. If a student emails me with an issue over file type or format, before or after the submission deadline, I can’t log in and fix the issue.  It would be really useful to allow the student or academic to edit submissions after the due date, or at least to allow this as an option when the assignment is being set up. I have to email the students peer-assessing a specific students work with a revised version at the moment.

As I say above, these are very small issues compared to the simplicity of compiling the grades and feedback to the students. I still use GoogleDocs for the first self-assessment (and ask different questions) but it is easy to include that in the grade centre.  I’ve get to find anyone else who uses this tool in Blackboard and mostly I figured out how to use it by googling!

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