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Image by Ley, Flickr

Image by Ley, Flickr

As students, we tend to sprint full speed ahead. Between life, friends, classes, and study sessions, it can be easy to fall into a routine. Routines can be great, stimulating intellectual muscle memory and saving you from repeatedly utilizing ineffective methods; but, unfortunately not all habits that we have adopted will lead to educational success. Peer and self-evaluations can help students eradicate bad habits and hone good ones. But how do you decide how to grade yourself and your peers?

The Problem with Peer and Self-Evaluations

Personally, I always hated evaluations. It didn’t matter whether they were evaluations of my peers or of myself. The process for me was painfully long. I always spent too much time wondering, how honest should I be? If I say I deserve an “A” is it dishonest? If I say I deserve a “B” will I have no chance of getting an “A”? Will I seem too arrogant if I rate my peers lower than myself? Why is there not a key to let me know exactly what deserves a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5?

The problem with my approach? While I spent time superficially assessing myself, most times I didn’t dig deep enough to actually learn anything significant about my work ethic or habits. The process ended up seeming useless except as a means to hurt or help my grade.

Other students had the opposite problem; rather than spending way too much time overanalyzing and fretting about their ability to assess themselves and their peers honestly, they sped through the analysis as fast as they could. I definitely deserve an “A.” We’ll rate Bob a 3, 4, 4, 3 and Jill 4, 4, 3, 3. Hmm, I’ll give myself a 4, 3, 4, 4.

The problem? Rather than actually assessing themselves and their peers, they speed through the assessment in a matter of minutes. This practice is a mix of dishonesty and a lack of motivation. There might be minimal desire to sway the grade, but that would involve spending more time on the assessment.

Students’ Evaluation Motivation

The biggest step in turning peer and self-evaluations into a positive, productive experience is to ensure you as a student understand the benefits. Dr. Hao Lou has conducted research studies to better understand the skills required for online learners to succeed with their studies during his tenure as a professor at Ohio University.

Lou’s 2003 study sought to understand the connection intersection between successful peer evaluations and student motivation. The study found that students were more apt to participate seriously in peer evaluations if they perceived that the evaluation would “determin[e] peers’ grades” and “reduce conflict and uneven workload distribution among group members.”
Evaluations are hard, so being able to contextualize the reason behind the evaluations can give you the motivation to participate. When presented with the obligation to evaluate yourself or your peers, ensure that you understand the reason the professor asked for the evaluation. If the professor doesn’t explain, you might want to ask their reasoning. That reason will be your mantra – your reason for investing time into the evaluation.

The Question of Honesty

Honesty in evaluations can be hard. This is especially true if you know what you say in the evaluation will be held against you. Ethically and morally, if you only invested the bare minimum into the project, you should admit it and face the consequences. That is the key to cultivating emotional intelligence that will serve you well working with peers during your educational and professional career.

Can’t afford to be honest? I could tell you honesty is the only answer, but that wouldn’t reflect reality. Be honest with yourself at least. Face down why and how you failed. Make note of it. And plan how you can fix the problems during the next project. The goal is to eventually escape the problem of having to decide between honesty and a grade.

You think you deserve a low grade? Take a few moments to really think about the project. Maybe the issue isn’t one of honesty, but one of not having problems properly evaluating yourself. Some individuals are more apt to grade themselves harsher than they do their peers. If you find yourself constantly surprised by high grades, you probably have this problem. Go into evaluations with this bias in mind. If you still find yourself grading harshly, you might want to bump the evaluation grade up a bit.

Evaluations can be a powerful tool to ensure accountability and fair grades during educational projects. Evaluations are only effective if the students are motivated to invest time into participating. Ensuring that you as a student understand the benefits of peer evaluations can ensure that you and your teammates will receive the full benefits of educational evaluations.

This article was contributed by guest author Samantha Stauf.