Te aromatawai mahi ngātahi me te aromatawai aropā / Arotake aropā

Collaborative and peer assessment

“Collaboration can offer benefits for learning in at least two ways. Firstly we can collaborate to learn about ‘x’. For group members to collaborate necessitates them in articulating and explaining their ideas to each other. Articulation ‘externalises’ ideas for scrutiny by the group member him/herself, as well as by the other members of the group. Explaining one’s ideas and sharing perspectives and viewpoints encourages each group member to examine their own ideas in the light of others’ views (Kaye, 1992; McConnell, 1994; Koschmann, 1996). Secondly the experiences of collaboration may help develop important personal transferable skills, including learning how to collaborate. This can also include communication, co-ordination, and self-management skills.” (Goodyear, 2001, pp. 81-84)

Learning to work productively in teams, collaborating with others and providing constructive feedback to peers are essential skills for life, and contribute to global citizenship and community engagement. These skills need to be learned, and capabilities for self-regulation need to be developed. Providing opportunities for groupwork, peer and self-assessment in higher education would therefore seem crucial. However, there are many potential pitfalls for inexperienced learners and lecturers alike. Badly designed or poorly conceived group tasks for high-stakes assessment can be inequitable and stressful—and may well actually be harmful—but development of these skills can be designed into the learning experience, and assessment and feedback tasks can support their development. Positive effects from the use of some forms of groupwork, peer and self-assessment might include reduced marking loads in large classes and may help to foster learning networks and create links amongst dispersed groups of students.

Formatively assessed, or unassessed, collaborative tasks can be managed through Canvas Groups, or Discussions.

Collaboration versus cooperation

If we believe that learning is socio-cultural, and situated, building shared culture and collaboration in learning environments is crucial.

Collaboration is arguably at the heart of online learning, and as David McConnell pointed out nearly 20 years ago, an online course that promotes the development of a ‘learning community’ through collaborative discussion and negotiated understanding absolutely necessitates a collaborative form of assessment in order to align methods and outcomes.

“In networked e-learning there have to be forms of assessment which support and reward learners in processes of collaboration, interactivity and discussion. If we assess collaborative learning in traditional ways, we will undermine the aims of collaborative e-learning.” (McConnell, 2005)

Truly collaborative learning cannot be done without significant effort to create student engagement—it entails building trust and application of “collaborative inquiry and joint action in the face of shared challenges” (NLEC, 2021). A collaborative learning community can be transformational, requires commitment and vulnerability, ‘buy-in’ with the ‘whole self’, therefore belief that one’s voice will be listened to. This deep engagement needs to be in place long before collaborative assessment is planned.

There is a fundamental distinction between this kind of collaborative enquiry, which lends itself very well to group assessment projects that aim to solve real-world problems, and cooperative assessment, which remains a largely individual effort:

“In cooperation, partners split the work, solve sub-tasks individually and then assemble the partial results into the final output. In collaboration, partners do the work ‘together.’” (Dillenbourg, 1999, p. 8)

Ted Panitz states that:

“Collaborative learning (CL) is a personal philosophy, not just a classroom technique. The underlying premise of collaborative learning is based upon consensus building through cooperation by group members, in contrast to competition in which individuals best other group members. Cooperative learning is defined by a set of processes which help people interact together in order to accomplish a specific goal or develop an end product that is usually content specific. It is more directive than a collaborative system of governance and closely controlled by the teacher.” (Panitz, 1999, p. 3)

Collaborative assessment relies on building trust and shared values that are very much in keeping with the University focus on relational learning and teaching.

For more on this see:

If time and circumstances do not allow for the development of such a community, (if the class is very large, or contains a mix of online and offline/overseas students), collaborative assessment may be just too risky, non-inclusive and even marginalising, and cooperative assessment tasks will be easier and simpler to mark.

To mitigate issues of ‘freeloading’ or other potential issues in marking, a mix of group and individual assessment is recommended.

Groupwork and group assessment may be collaborative or cooperative. There is a plethora of research into groupwork both online and classroom based. Here we can merely outline some of the main themes and provide links to further research.

Common issues with groupwork include:

  • ‘Free-riding’
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Ability mix
  • Types of tasks – distribution of work/roles
  • Size of group

These and other considerations are discussed at length in W. Martin Davies’ Higher Education article, Groupwork as a form of assessment: common problems and recommended solutions, which includes a breakdown of common problems and offers ways to mitigate potential issues with assessed groupwork. Example checklists and group contracts are provided in the appendices.


Preparation for groupwork is key to success

A summative group assessment task should never be allocated without prior work to support expectations, processes and attitudes. You may need to build in scaffolding for negotiation skills, role-allocation, managing workflow and many other aspects of working effectively as a team. Ideally, get students to develop the terms of engagement for their group.

Ako Aotearoa have produced a guide to cooperative learning. See also these guidelines on preparing students for groupwork (UNSW).

An example agreement for student groups might cover:

  • A group ethos and internal group support mechanisms.
  • The grade that the group is aiming for.
  • A schedule with set times of group meetings (F2F or virtual).
  • Meeting protocol, punctuality criteria and individual behaviour
  • Individual roles and workloads.
  • A progress schedule.
  • The tools and resources available to facilitate groupwork, communication, and management (e.g., research/library materials, Canvas, virtual discussion environments, Skype).
  • Rules and modes of communication.
  • Criteria for individual task completion.
  • The consequences for individual and group failure.

Adapted from Improving learning and teaching: Group work and group assessment (Victoria University of Wellington).

See also: Assessment matters: Group work assessment (University of Waikato).

Peer assessment versus peer review

Peer assessment

Peer assessment requires students to evaluate and grade the work of their colleagues, and whilst there can be advantages to this (for example, learning to apply criteria and judgement to a piece of work) there are also many potential negative effects on student grades, confidence and self-esteem, and psychological stresses in taking on this role. For more on this see

  • Panadero, E. (2016). Is it safe? Social, interpersonal, and human effects of peer assessment: A review and future directions. In G. T. L. Brown, & L. R. Harris (Eds.), Handbook of human and social conditions in assessment (pp. 247-266). Routledge.

As with summative collaborative assessment, summative peer assessment is not something to be considered without careful planning and preparation, especially with large classes. Smaller groups may be handled manually on old-school pen and paper, or through a survey platform like Qualtrics. For tools that can handle peer assessment at scale, see the list of technologies for managing groupwork.


Peer review for formative evaluation

“Peer review … is about students making evaluative judgements about other students’ work and providing written feedback. It is not about students marking each other’s work or even rating it, as rating is often perceived as marking by students.” (REAP, 2007)

“Research has shown that developing reflective skills, particularly using peer review, is one of the best ways of enhancing learning, but such techniques are still underused.” (JISC, 2015)

Peer review does not require students to award final grades to their peers, or to take on the sometimes uncomfortable role of markers. Peer review is more about sharing feedback and suggestions. Having students submit a draft or an outline or some other initial element of a longer assignment task can be an effective way of ensuring students have exposure to the ideas of their colleagues, gain feedback and pay attention to requirements. Peer review of assessments in large classes may also help with marking workload.

As with any form of assessment and feedback, peer-review activities need to be carefully designed. There are logistical elements to timing—for example will you require all students to have submitted their draft before assigning reviewers? How will you manage late submissions? Students need to know what to do, when to do it by, and often with clear feedback and marking schedules, especially if used in a summative rather than formative context.

The benefits of using peer review may include:

  • Students see how their peers have tackled a particular piece of work.
  • Students can see how you would assess the work (e.g., from the model answers/answer sheets you’ve provided).
  • Students are put in the position of being an assessor, thereby giving them an opportunity to internalise the assessment criteria.

Canvas enables students to provide feedback on another student’s assignment submission. Peer review Assignments in Canvas can be designed to show student names or display anonymously.

Note: Individual students can only view peer review assignments after they have submitted work to the assignment.

For more information on using peer review on Canvas, see:

Scalability of collaborative assessment and peer feedback

“Designing for scale and fostering a learning community aren’t mutually exclusive; scalability must, and still does leave plenty of room for student-to-content, student-to-student, and student-to-instructor interaction… The discussion board can become a one-stop-shop for information-sharing, formative feedback, and deeper dives into the content, making for a rich learning experience.” (Roter, 2021)

As mentioned above, having students peer review each other’s work in small groups may help to lessen the marking workload—students can submit a draft assessment, receive feedback and re-submit. However, caution is needed to avoid some pitfalls identified by Gavin Brown—such as students being overly kind to each other. Use of robust criteria and a marking rubric can help with this, but you should allow time to prepare students for the task.

Gavin Brown (University of Auckland) identifies some of the pitfalls of using peer feedback for groupwork, including students who give skewed feedback according to their relationship with the individual, their relationship within the group or other motivating factors.

Note: the video starts at 16:17sec. To view the full video, slide the playback control bar to the start.

Gavin’s presentation was recorded on 22 September 2021 at the University of Auckland’s Academic Psychology Colloquium.

For a larger view, click the full screen button or Watch on YouTube


Asking students to reflect on collaborative assessment and their personal contribution to a group task can reduce the need for individual lecturer feedback and help students to develop their own awareness of learning goals, particularly in the formative phases.

Peer assessment and self-assessment may count towards final grades but should not be used alone. A combination of peer, self, and lecturer percentages towards an assessment grade can work well but may be time consuming.

Students may be asked to rate their own or their peers’ participation in a group assessment task—clear guidance, and if a grade is attached, a rubric for this is recommended. An example rubric for assessing participation:

Example rubric for group discussion

Table 1

Assessment guidelines for participation in discussion forums 10%
Category 4 3 2 1
Contribution to the learning community Consistently presents creative reflections on topic; frequently prompts further discussion of topic Often presents reflections that become central to the group’s discussion; interacts freely and encourages others Occasionally makes meaningful reflection on group’s efforts; marginal effort to become involved with group Does not make effort to participate in learning community as it develops; seems indifferent
Relevance of post Posts consistently are related to discussion topic; brings readings into discussion Posts are related to discussion topic; makes some connections with readings Occasionally posts off topic; most posts offer no further insight into the topic Posts topics which do not relate to the discussion content; makes irrelevant remarks
Promptness and initiative Responds promptly to postings; demonstrates good self-initiative; participates at least twice for each topic Responds promptly to most postings; requires occasional prompting to post; participates at least once for each topic Responds to most postings several days after initial discussion; limited initiative; participates once for each topic Does not respond to most postings; rarely participated freely; infrequent participation

Adapted from an example rubric from Constanza Tolosa’s Moodle course Edprofst 355, the University of Auckland.

The theme of Collaborative and peer assessment relates to the TeachWell core capabilities:

  • Aligning intended learning outcomes, teaching approach and assessment.
  • Encouraging the engagement and learning of all students.
  • Designing assessment opportunities that enable students to develop and demonstrate their capabilities.

… and the University’s principles of assessment:

  1. 3. Assessment tasks are demonstrably aligned with course-level learning outcomes, and programme and University-level Graduate Profiles.

Useful tools

Technologies for managing groupwork

  • Aropä – peer review made easy, and the Aropä user guide.
  • Miro – collaborative whiteboard.
  • Padlet – Post-it style notes and stickers.
  • PeerMark – peer reviewing assignments via Turnitin.
  • Peerwise – (for collaborative quizzes) is a tool developed at the University of Auckland.
  • Perusall – collaborative engagement with course readings.
  • TeamMates – a free peer evaluation tool used by pockets of the University, e.g., within Business and Economics.
Taumata Teitei Vision 2030 and Strategic Plan 2025

The theme of Collaborative and peer assessment links with the values and principles of:

Caring for those around us in the way we relate to each other.

Recognising the importance of kinship and lasting relationships.

Designing collaborative or peer assessment/review offers an opportunity to develop caring and productive relationships between students that help foster their learning from one another as well as a sense of belonging. Success moves from just the individual to the success of the larger group together.

Respect and integrity
We respect and appreciate what makes people different, harnessing the power of our diversity. We recognise the multiple perspectives of our community. We take responsibility for our choices and actions, and trust that others will fulfil their responsibilities.

Assessment that requires students to work together, whether collaboratively in group work or in a peer role, encourages students to develop their empathy for one another and interpersonal and collaborative skills.

In our world as a world-class university, we work to graduate the leaders of tomorrow. We believe that excellence in teaching and research provides a means of engendering transformation in the lives of many people.

How we design learning experiences helps students build their capabilities. Collaborative, evaluative, and interpersonal skills learned from group work and peer assessment/reviews are essential for employability and everyday life. More than just a method of demonstrating student achievement of the intended learning outcomes in a course, assessment provides opportunities for the personal development of the student as a whole person for their future, and for the benefit of their communities.

Additional resources

  • REAP project (Re-engineering Assessment Practices in Higher Education).
  • Race, P. (2019). Making small-group teaching work. In The lecturer’s toolkit: A practical guide to assessment, learning and teaching (5th ed., pp. 236-277). https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429060205

  • Groupwork rubrics (page 584), in Davies, W. M. (2009) Groupwork as a form of assessment: common problems and recommended solutions. High Educ, 58(4), 584. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40269202



Center for Learning and Research in Higher Education (CLeaR). (2018). A guide to the effective use of groupwork. Flexible learning, University of Auckland. https://flexiblelearning.auckland.ac.nz/guide-to-group-work

Davies, W. M. (2009). Groupwork as a form of assessment: common problems and recommended solutions. High Educ 58, 563–584. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-009-9216-y

Dillenbourg, P. (1999). What do you mean by collaborative learning? In P. Dillenbourg (Ed.), Collaborative-learning: cognitive and computational approaches (pp. 1–19). Oxford: Elsevier.

Goodyear, P. (2001). Effective networked learning in higher education: notes and guidelines (Deliverable 9). Bristol, UK: Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).

JISC. (2015). Assessment design. Transforming assessment and feedback with technology (p. 14). https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/transforming-assessment-and-feedback/assessment-design

McConnell, D. (2005). Collaborative assessment online: Making Assessment a learning process [Paper presentation]. 5th Annual National Conference: Virtual Learning—eAssessment, University of Bristol Learning Technology Support Service.

Networked Learning Editorial Collective (NLEC), Gourlay, L., Illera, R., Luis, J., Barberà, E., Bali, M., Gachago, D., Pallitt, N., Jones, C. Bayne, S., Hansen, S., Hrastinski, S., Jaldemark, J., Themelis, C., Pischetola, M., Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., Matthews, A., Gulson, K. Lee, K., … Knox, J. (2021). Networked learning in 2021: A community definition. Postdigit Sci Educ, 3, 326-369. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-021-00222-y

Panitz, T. (1999). Collaborative versus cooperative learning—a comparison of the two concepts. U.S. Department of Education. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED448443.pdf

Re-engineering Assessment Practices in Higher Education (REAP). (2007). Designing and Implementing Peer Review. https://www.reap.ac.uk/PEER/Designs.aspx

Roter, J. (2021). So Many Submissions, So Little Time: Scalable Assessments, Feedback Models, and Fostering Community. Teach Online. https://teachonline.asu.edu/2021/03/so-many-submissions-so-little-time-scalable-assessments-feedback-models-and-fostering-community-1/

University of Reading. (n.d.). How to tackle assessment of large numbers of students. Engage in Assessment. https://www.reading.ac.uk/engageinassessment/assessing-large-groups/eia-how-to-tackle-large-group-assessment.aspx
See also: Group size and composition and Dealing with freeloaders.

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