PeerWise is a free software application developed by a computer science lecturer from the University of Auckland. It allows learners to write their own multiple choice questions (with answers and explanations) related to course material and submit them to a repository, which can be restricted to their class group. Questions can include text, equations, chemical formulae and images. Students also answer questions submitted by their peers and can evaluate them and comment on them. Further information, including registration details, can be accessed at; http://peerwise.cs.auckland.ac.nz/ .
Because of the number of questions generated, instructors do not usually provide feedback on them. It is good practice to provide some guidance and sample questions with answers and explanations at the outset however. Academic staff can be concerned that incorrect information and interpretations may be presented within some questions. In practice, when this does happen, other students usually realise the problem and communicate it to the question author. The software includes an option to ‘Improve explanation’ that helps to facilitate this. Students can also be encouraged to contact their instructor if they are concerned about the accuracy of some information or if they wish to report inappropriate online behaviour. Activity on PeerWise is anonymous for students although participants do sometimes choose to input their own name as their username. Instructors are provided with access to view the contributions from each student.
The features of the question repository are based on the Web 2.0 model which emphasises online interaction and collaboration and the integration of user-generated content. Learners can rate and comment on questions submitted by their peers and can choose to ‘follow’ particular question authors. Gamification principles are also applied as participants can gain online badges for a range of achievements and can view their leaderboard scores for a range of criteria that relate to questions created and evaluations and comments provided as well as accuracy in answering questions. These social web and gamification elements have been found to engage learners. Preparing effective multiple choice questions to develop understanding of topics and concepts is a valuable learning activity and, by developing this further, PeerWise can provide an environment that structures and supports independent learning.
Careful consideration needs to be given to the minimum number of questions that learners are asked to author, answer and evaluate. The contribution that this activity will make to their assessment mark and the criteria used are also important to establish. In some cases, the focus may be on the level of higher order thinking within questions. In others, the rating provided by the PeerWise system for each participant may contribute substantially towards the mark awarded. Studies carried out on the implementation of PeerWise in chemistry have found high levels of activity and peer-learning occurring and some evidence that it has been particular beneficial for students of lower and intermediate ability.
Original author: Claire McDonnell