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One of the key attributes that undergraduate study of a subject seeks to develop is an advanced level of problem solving ability within the discipline. This is particularly true in (but not restricted to) science disciplines, where the typical assessment tasks to be completed during self-study take the form of a weekly problem set. Whilst it is true that deliberate practice of this kind can develop these skills, it has also been argued that a deeper understanding can be achieved by having students pose, as well as answer, problems. In cognitive terms, it is far more demanding to generate both correct and incorrect reasoning and answers to a problem than merely attempting to find a solution.

We have been using Peerwise[1] as a freely available web tool that provides an online framework to facilitate student creation of problems. Developed in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Auckland, it harnesses both the latent creativity of an undergraduate cohort but also includes much of the social functionality that increasingly forms the cornerstone of online interactions. As well as being able to create assessment questions (in the form of multiple choice questions, with associated explanations), students are able to answer each other’s questions, comment on questions, seek help from authors, rate questions or comments and follow their favourite question contributors.

Project Pilot 2010-2011

In the 2010-11 academic year, we piloted the use of PeerWise in our introductory first year Physics courses. The use of PeerWise was built into the summative assessment of the course (contributing a small amount to the in curse assessment grade for each of the two semester-long courses. Prior to start of the assessment task, we provided scaffolding activities that helped students consider both what makes a good MCQ and how to go about creating questions based on their self-identified misconceptions or misunderstandings. This took the form of structured group work activities for workshop / tutorial sessions. We found evidence of strong engagement and high quality questions and discussions relevant to the course material.

Project Developments 2011

Scottish e-Assessment Conference Award
Scottish e-Assessment Conference Award
for Peerwise at Edinburgh

In August 2011, we were awarded grant funding from JISC as part of their Assessment and Feedback programme (strand B) for a project to investigate expanding our study to include courses at different educational levels and in different subjects. Working with colleagues in the Schools of Chemistry and Biological Sciences at Edinburgh, this project will run for 1 year from September 2011. Full details will appear on the publicly accessible project wiki: "SGC4L - student generated content for learning" in due course.

The scaffolded implementation of PeerWise was also awarded the Formative e-Assessment prize at the Scottish e-Assessment Conference, 2011.

Project Contacts

Prof Simon Bates, School of Physics and Astronomy
Dr Ross Galloway, School of Physics and Astronomy
Prof Judy Hardy, School of Physics and Astronomy
Karon McBride, School of Physics and Astronomy

Partners on the SGC4L project - Colin Pulham, Chemistry & Heather McQueen, Biology.

Publications & Documents

Other Resources

Additional Screenshots

Scaffolding for Peerwise in Physics 1A
Example 'scaffolding' used to support the students in creating questions in Peerwise - click to expand.

An example of the kind of creativity employed by students in their questions
An example of the kind of creativity employed by students in their questions - click to expand.