Using PeerWise as a Teaching Tool

What is PeerWise?

​PeerWise is a free tool that guides students in creating multiple choice questions. They can also answer, rate ​for quality and difficulty, and comment on their peers' questions anonymously. Students can view their peers' comments and modify their questions as needed. Questions are searchable and can be tagged. PeerWise is gamified and assigns badges for answering questions correctly, logging in frequently, rating questions, etc. For more information, videos about creating, answering and rating questions, etc. see this information page from PeerWise


Sample PeerWise question written by one of my students. Note that it has some significant problems.

Here are a few of the comments left by other students within a few days. Note that instructors can see the names associated with comments, but students cannot. 


How I use PeerWise

​I have students in my online pathophysiology courses choose to complete one of two homework options each week. They can either do a workbook assignment OR create four or five PeerWise questions based on the weekly learning goals. I have the learning goals posted at the beginning of each week & numbered. There are usually 4-6 learning goals per week, and the homework assignment is to create one question covering each learning goal. For each learning goal, they create a multiple choice question, including several distractors and an explanation of what they think is the correct answer. Then they use the tagging feature of PeerWise to indicate which week/learning goal the question covers. If they're covering the 3rd learning goal in week 2, they'd tag the question 2.3, the 5th learning goal in week 7 would be 7.5, etc. (This is new next trimester, so we'll see how it goes. My intention is for them to be able to search for questions relating to specific topics while reviewing the material.) 

In addition to writing their own questions, students also answer, rate and comment on an equal number of their peers' questions. PeerWise asks reviewers to rate each question on difficulty (easy/medium/hard) and quality (a scale of 1-5). They can also leave anonymous comments that are visible to everyone in the course. ​I do not specify which material the questions that they answer should cover. It could be questions that have been posted from any week of the course. Interspersing practice is supposed to be helpful for retention, and it's just logistically easier not to place any limitations on the questions they choose to answer. It's not unusual for students to answer many more than the minimum number of questions. 

Every 3-4 weeks I have them complete a Canvas "quiz" asking them if they did their homework for each week, and whether they chose the workbook or PeerWise. They automatically get ​points if they report that they did either one. ​


Example of a faculty comment in PeerWise


​Why I Like PeerWise

  • ​It's fun. The students enjoy doing it and almost all say that they were pleasantly surprised by how fun and engaging it is. 
  • It's easy to set up on my end. It requires very little management/time and no grading. It's great for large courses for this reason. 
  • It's also easy for the students to use. After using it with thousands of students, I have not had a single person ​tell me they could ​not access/engage with PeerWise. The only tech problem I have ever experienced is students forgetting their username/password (which you can reset as an instructor).
  • It's self-correcting. PeerWise does not assume that the student's answer to their own question is correct. Instead, when you respond to someone else's question it says "Your answer agrees/disagrees with the one selected by the author." If the question is poorly-worded, if there are multiple correct answers and/or if the author incorrectly answered the question, it will almost always come up in the ratings/comments. Students can then modify their questions, answer choices or explanations in response to feedback.
  • It facilitates active learning. Creating questions, answers and distractors requires a very different kind of engagement with the material. The students often report a newfound appreciation for people who create multiple choice exams :).
  • We all benefit from student-generated content. The students can use one another's questions for practice and review. I can use them for exams and quizzes.
  • It's non-commercial. Student data is entirely controlled by the instructor, no identifying information is collected or stored by PeerWise other than the identifier the instructor provides, which is not shared with any third parties. (See their privacy agreement/terms here). PeerWise is hosted by the University of Auckland in New Zealand.  

Here's an example of what students might see after answering several questions.


Getting Started

Setting up PeerWise is easy. ​Request a free instructor account if you do not have one. Once that's set up, click "Create a new course" and decide which student identifiers you'd like to use. I use students' school email addresses, because I have access to them before each trimester starts. Add those in, and you're ready to get started. PeerWise will automatically assign you a course ID. (Here is the PeerWise page on creating a course.)

Next, you'll need to have students join your PeerWise section. Be clear with them that they need to create their own account first, with a username and password of their choosing. After they have created their own account, THEN they can click "Join course" and enter the identifier you've chosen for them and the course ID. I am happy to share the wording from my Getting Started with PeerWise page if that would be helpful. Just ask! I also provide a few web pages on how to write high-quality multiple choice questions that ​go beyond basic definitions.

Here is a PeerWise page with ​info for students on how to get started.


​This is what a student would see after answering a question in PeerWise.

The student's explanation of the correct answer.

A few peer responses to the question.


Teaching Tips 

​I have found that things go more smoothly with PeerWise if I am fairly active there for the first few weeks of the course. As an instructor, you have access to analytics and can see who has posted which questions, who has answered which questions, etc. You also have the option of commenting on questions as a student (anonymously) or as a faculty member (with your name; highlighted in the comment section). I tend to comment anonymously on many questions for the first few weeks, to model what a strong critique looks like. After students get the hang of it, I find that I can back off and let things run themselves. 

You will also be able to view the questions sorted by their ranking for quality and/or difficulty. I will often sort through some of the higher-rated questions and add variations of these into quizzes or exams. I make sure to read the comments when I notice that a specific question has many comments; sometimes there are misconceptions or disagreements that I can address with everyone.

There is an option to report/flag questions. I have never had anyone use it, but if you are teaching a different population it may come in handy. It's nice to know that there is a mechanism to alert you to inappropriate questions/content.

If I am ​running multiple sections of a course, I combine them into one PeerWise section even if there are different instructors. It's a bit easier administratively, and it means that the students have more questions/people to interact with. I start a new "course" on PeerWise every trimester.

​Potential Problems

  • PeerWise does not have LTI; you cannot integrate with with Canvas, etc. Students will need a separate username/password, and their work will not be stored within the LMS. This could be seen as a benefit rather than a problem for many people :).  You can download Excel spreadsheets of the questions and responses if you'd like so save them. I have been using PeerWise since 2015 and can still access all of the ​questions/answers from all courses.​
  • I am not sure how accessible PeerWise is for those using screen readers. Because I offer an alternate homework option each week, this has not come up in my courses. If anyone has any experience or feedback on this, I'd love to hear about it.
  • Students can lose/forget their usernames/passwords. This is rare, in my experience. It does take a few minutes for the instructor to reset the account, but it isn't so bad. 
  • It's difficult to grade if that's something that is important to you. There isn't an easy way to assign grades for PeerWise participation, especially in large courses. You can see statistics broken down by student re: how many questions they have created, answered, etc. However, if you wanted to do that weekly it would be cumbersome for large courses. I have them self-report participation every 3-4 weeks. Every now and then, students aren't accurate on their Canvas "quiz" where I ask them to report whether they completed PeerWise or the homework. I don't check this very often - I figure they are primarily hurting themselves if they choose not to review the material - but there have been a few times when I have noticed that someone inaccurately reported their participation.

​That's it! If you use PeerWise, I'd love to hear about how you use it. If I can help you out, please feel free to reach out as well. ​

Camille

Hi there. I'm Camille. I'm a professor at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, where I teach physiology and pathophysiology. I'm also a licensed nutritionist and herbalist, specializing in fertility and reproductive health. Lastly but not leastly, I'm a mom, a gardener and a pretty horrible housekeeper.

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