Peeragogy Assessments

November 14, 2014  |  Online Education | E-Learning  |  Share

Part VIII of the Peeragogy Handbook consists of two chapters that engage with the topic of peer assessment. Assessment is an important but also freeform topic in learning contexts. Assessment functions as a feedback mechanism for both students and teachers in the traditional classroom. In a virtual, peer-driven classroom, the objectives of assessment in terms of feedback are the same, but the lack of teachers and the fact that peers are on the same level as one another makes the context of assessment different, and makes devising effective means of assessment more challenging.
The authors of the first chapter of this section analyze the Peeragogy project itself using a short survey that was circulated among participants of the Peeragogy project. The responses to the survey constituted an internal assessment of the project’s direction and how well the participants felt that the project had helped them grow and learn. The survey was anonymous, so the participants did not feel any pressure to alter their responses to look better. Responses offered an honest view of the Peeragogy Project, with some survey respondents expressing that they enjoyed working with the variety of top minds involved with the project and the opportunities for learning that they experienced. Others were less happy, worrying that the project lacked direction and structure. The Project in its first year seemed to have a large emphasis on theory and background that sometimes didn’t translate into actual implementations of peeragogical principles in the real world. Four main ideas emerged from the survey that should be the focus of any peer learning project. The first is cooperation- a peer learning team needs to trust each other and work together freely. The next is convene- the project needs to ensure that while individuals are making progress on their own problems, they are also reporting back to the group and sharing both their progress and their frustrations. The third idea is organization, or the ability to welcome new members and integrate them into the project. A group of veterans may work well together, but they need the outside perspective of new members to ensure the project stays true to its original goals. The last is assessment. Assessment in peeragogy terms is broader than grades- it is ensuring that the project has relevance and applicability for people outside the project. Assessment means making sure the project is doing something that everyone finds worthwhile.
The second chapter is dedicated to a study of Joe Corneli’s PlanetMath.com venture. The chapter uses PlanetMath as a way to examine research in terms of peeragogy and vice versa. The qualitative research found three major themes that peer projects should consider: “frontend versus backend,” the “spanning set,” and the “minimum viable project.” The frontend and backend distinction is between different types of users. Backend users know the system on the inside- they know the specifics of the system’s internal structure and use that knowledge when they interact with the system and with other users. On the other hand, the frontend of the system is a simplified presentation that appeals to new users or those without the time or interest to get to know all the details of how the system works. The authors present the analogy of car mechanics and car drivers. A car mechanic knows the backend of the system, the car, very well- after all, it is his job to do so! On the other hand, the average driver doesn’t know much about the exact workings of his car’s engine. He doesn’t need to spend the time and effort to learn these things in order to become a good driver. The “spanning set” might also be called the human context. In a traditional classroom, the spanning set consists of one teacher and a number of students. In a peeragogical learning context, there might be many tutors associated with smaller numbers of students- a different spanning set. The spanning set also involves the built-in guides to the available content in the project. For example, PlanetMath can make use of summaries and links to popular or important discussions on the front page of its Web site to guide new users, showing them where to start if they want information on a certain topic. The final theme is the minimum viable project, or a roadmap of the project, its goals, and its features. The roadmap should tie the different aspects of the project together into a document or layout that a user can read. It should be possible to see one cohesive view of the project.
The assessment of peeragogical projects turns on whether both their participants and the rest of the world finds the projects valuable. Internal surveys can capture part of that, but the only way to truly assess the project’s success is usage in the world.

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