By B. Prema Strecker, RDH, MS

I attended a session on “Using Peer Assessments to Develop Professional Skills and Cohesive Teams in a Gross Anatomy Course,” led by Judy Klimek and Cathryn Sparks at the Lilly Conference 2018. Gross Anatomy is a rigorous “team sport” with information to be mastered and lab procedures to be accomplished by students. Dysfunctional teams are not uncommon. It became a priority for these professors to support team members to provide feedback to each other to promote development of professional behaviors. The goals of their Peer Assessment (PA) process were to:

  1. Support accountability of team members.
  2. Promote reflection of team members on their personal behaviors.
  3. Facilitate addressing team function problems in a timely fashion.
  4. Assess the outcome of the process.

The Peer Assessments focused on professional behaviors, supporting and assessing soft skills. Student motivation to participate with good effort was enhanced by pointing out that these soft skills would be directly relevant to their responsibilities to colleagues at work, and especially to their job interviews!

The professors researched different PA tools and chose one that best addressed their situation. Student self-assessments were completed using the same tool and process. Key features included:

  • Requiring students to rate their colleagues and themselves from 1-5 on each of 10 professional behaviors. Example behaviors were included for each dimension.
  • The total score ranged from 10 to 50.
  • Space at the bottom to write comments on what the teammate was doing well and on what they could improve.
  • Feedback received by students was anonymous.

Students received course credit for doing PA, rather than for the scores received. They were advised to dispense the useful kind of feedback that they would want to get. Faculty monitored comments, ensuring that nothing unprofessional or damaging was passed to students. Student and professor feedback limited PA to 3 times a semester. Organizing and using the content was a lot of work for a professor. She reported that even using Google Forms “Peerceptive” was demanding.

Results and observations of PA:

  • There was a trend towards a slightly higher score each time.
  • Students generally scored themselves lower than their peers.
  • Most students gave high scores to everyone.
  • Students generally felt that they got specific and useful feedback.
  • Students overall did a great job of giving professional feedback.
  • The self-assessment was as valuable as the PA.
  • Some students did not understand the scoring, so clear explanation is needed at the beginning of the process.
  • Give groups enough time to process the feedback and assess group functioning before they do PA again.
  • Some students gave superficial or repetitive feedback.

A student survey of the PA process was done at the end of the semester. A summary of conclusions from data related to group functioning and self-reflection includes:

  • Students reported seeing improvement in the way the group functioned over the course of the semester.
  • The most encouraging outcome was self-reflection and self-improvement.
  • Individuals strived to alter their own interactive behaviors.
  • Anecdotally, faculty noticed fewer instances of their being made aware of groups struggling with team functioning issues.

A bottom line for students: 85% of them voted to do PA again in the next semester!