Higher Education Students’ Perceptions of and Attitudes Towards Peer Assessment in Multicultural Classrooms

Abstract

Due to the scant work done thus far, the present mixed-methods study assessed Education students’ perceptions of and attitudes towards peer assessment (PA) and their effect on the perceived Transfer of PA practices to their future classes. 120 undergraduate multicultural students have participated in the study. The students were given two group assignments in line with the project-based learning approach. During each project presentation to the class, the students were required to individually assess their peers’ group work based on an indicator that was previously designed in collaboration with the teacher. After each assessment, the students filled out the Students’ perceptions of and attitudes towards PA questionnaire. The analysis implied that students’ positive perception of their ability to assess their peers and their trust in their peers’ ability to accurately assess their work are effective factors that might enhance PA skills transfer to their future classes. However, based on the results, a key challenge in PA implementation appeared to be culture-related. The study highlights the need to focus on consolidating trust among students within a heterogeneous classroom during PA processes.

Introduction

Peer assessment (PA) is the application of criteria and standards to evaluate and provide feedback on the work of peers or colleagues. It is considered to be a form of student-centered collaborative learning whereby groups of individuals rate their peers to a consideration of the amount, level, value, worth, quality, or success of the products or outcomes of learning of peers of similar status (Topping 2017).

Indeed, the benefits of PA have been largely shown in previous research (Panadero 2016; Panadero et al. 2017) where students reported having positive attitudes towards PA and having learning gains. However, although learning without transfer of what has been learned is almost always unproductive and inefficient (Chi and VanLehn 2012), the question of how these assessment skills will continue to exist once the learners have completed their formal education is relatively neglected in research work (Day and Goldstone 2012). Hence, the present study was mainly aimed at assessing pre-service teachers' perceptions of and attitudes towards PA and their tendency to transfer PA practices to their future classes.

Another aspect of this study that has been identified as pivotal in this regard addresses the need to explore contemporary learning, instruction, and assessment strategies responding to diversity in courses and curricula. During the past decades, cultural diversity has emerged as one of the most prominent challenges facing higher education institutions in multicultural societies (Hofhuis et al. 2016). Indeed, instruction, learning, and assessment in a manner that takes into consideration the various needs of different students may lead to positive outcomes; however, incorporating such techniques into multicultural learning environments is quite often fraught with difficulties often related to ample academic challenges minority students encounter upon accessing higher education (Jiosi and Zalmanson-Levi 2018). For example, language barriers—first- and second-generation students whose first language is not the language of instruction usually have significant linguistic needs (Burns et al. 2019). Another barrier relates to academic skills, for instance, in Israel (Ben-Rabi and Hanadin 2013), the formal Arab education K-12 system mainly uses traditional teaching methods, whereas academic teaching encourages creative and critical thinking.

Notably, there is considerable literature on social-affective impacts of PA. For example, a recent study (Zhou et al. 2019) showed that students generally lack competence trust in their peers and themselves when participating in PA, which may underpin students’ dissatisfaction with this assessment approach. However, diversity research in this area remains sparse. Past studies appear to have overlooked the situational context of classroom heterogeneity that may influence the interplay between PA and students’ perception of this assessment process, thus little is known about the potential, limitations, and general applicability of PA to different cultural groups. Better understanding the effects and limitations of PA in this context is of utmost importance in contemporary multicultural higher education classrooms. This study might expand our understanding of how PA might be used in multicultural higher education settings and of students’ attitudes towards it and willingness to transfer skills and knowledge learned by this method to their professional work environments.

Literature Review

Peer Assessment

Topping (2019, p. 1) defines PA as “an arrangement for learning to consider and specify the level, value, or quality of a product or performance of other equal-status learners, then learn further by giving elaborated feedback to and discussing their appraisals with those who were assessed to achieve a negotiated agreed outcome.” In his recent book, Topping provides 43 variations of PA, for example, summative or formative, single product vs. several products, in class or out of class, process monitored or not. Although there could be many varieties of PA, Topping emphasizes that PA aimed at inspiring reflection and which develops personal and professional skills should be formative, in which students help each other identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas for remedial actions.

PA is a form of collaborative learning (Webb 2012). The assessment process should comprise transparency and explained grading criteria, information exchange, and student participation. The provided criteria should be also clear to the students and they should always be involved in the development of these assessment criteria thus they feel engaged in the process. The students need to understand the criteria by which their work would be evaluated and work jointly with the teacher in order to become autonomous and reflective people (Topping 2019).

Constructivist learning environments, such as project-based learning, and PA emphasize cooperation and teamwork, thus PA was found to be compatible with these learning methods (Kritikos et al. 2011). Moreover, PA was found effective for learning in different and varied disciplines and age groups. For example, Lu and Law (2012) examined the effects of PA on high school students’ learning. The results indicated that the provision by student assessors of feedback that identified problems and gave suggestions was a significant predictor of the performance of the assessors themselves and that positive affective feedback was related to the performance of assessees. In a similar vein, Bryant and Carless’ (2010) study delineated Hong Kong primary school student’s perceptions about the usefulness of PA followed from their perspectives on the quality of peer feedback, peer language proficiency, and the novelty or repetitiveness of its processes.

In higher education, Wu et al. (2012) assessed pharmacy students’ perceptions of and attitudes towards the use of PA within a drug literature evaluation course. The results showed that most of the students agreed that they had the necessary skills to assess their peers and that their peers possessed these skills as well. More students agreed they were comfortable receiving feedback from peers than providing feedback to them. The majority of students agreed that PA was a skill they will use in their career as pharmacists.

Given the wide use of PA, especially in higher education, the relative accuracy of peer ratings compared to teacher ratings is a major concern for both educators and researchers. In Hsia et al. (2015) study, a peer‐assessment approach was applied in a junior high school art course to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed approach. According to their findings, the PA ratings were highly correlated with the teachers' ratings in every performance item; moreover, the performance ratings were highly related to the students' self‐efficacy in evaluating peers' work and improving their own work based on peers' comments. The study indicated the effectiveness of performance scoring rubrics. The results also revealed that students who learned with the PA approach were significantly more satisfied with the learning activity than those who learned without it. Similarly, a meta-analysis study comparing peer and teacher ratings (Li et al. 2016) synthesized findings from studies on PA since 1999. The estimated average Pearson correlation between peer and teacher ratings was found to be 0.63, which is moderately strong. This correlation was significantly higher in specific cases, for example, when the PA is voluntary instead of compulsory, and when peer raters provide both scores and qualitative comments instead of only scores and are involved in developing the rating criteria.

Transfer of Learning

A central goal of education is to provide learning experiences that are useful beyond the specific conditions of initial learning. It involves adopting new perspectives—developing new ways of seeing familiar situations (Lobato 2012). It is commonly assumed that understanding how to get learners to transfer their knowledge to new situations is an important topic as it touches on core issues such as knowledge representation and concept formation (Chi and VanLehn 2012).

Based on the traditional view of transfer, past research has shown that it is the surface commonalities between cases that are more often the driving force in determining whether transfer actually occurs (e.g., Salomon and Perkins 1989). Nonetheless, the literature on similarity and transfer suggests that students may often fail to recognize the relevance of the ideas taught in class when they are confronted with analogous situations in the real world, particularly when the specific concrete details of those situations do not closely match those presented by teachers (Speelman et al. 2016). This failure-to-transfer phenomenon is explained by Chi and VanLehn (2012) by the lack of deep-initial-learning. The authors assume that the ability to identify the deep structure of a problem is an outcome of having learned the materials with deep understanding.

Instructional methods that foster deep learning successfully are those in which the students are asked to be more constructive in the initial learning processes. Teaching for transfer means creating a learner-centered classroom which focuses on the learning processes rather than the products of learning (Lobato 2003) and moves from a reductionist cognitive view of learning to the recognition that learning is social in nature.

Regarding assessment skills, it is noteworthy that the discussion on PA ignores the question of how this assessment skills will continue to exist once the learners complete their formal education and are expected to continue to learn on their own and use those skills. Boud (2010) circumvents this problem by suggesting the concept of ‘sustainable assessment,’ which underlines the dual role of assessment in present and future study tasks. Sustainable assessment reflects the link between teaching, learning and assessment, and the notion that assessment is destined for lifelong learning, "Sustainable assessment encompasses the abilities required to undertake those activities that necessarily accompany learning throughout life in formal and informal settings" (p. 151).

Indeed, many studies showed the benefits of PA to students’ learning, motivation, and performances (Hsia et al. 2015). However, it is noteworthy that the possible contribution of such assessment methods to students’ perceived ability to transfer concepts and skills learned in the classroom to their work environment was not substantiated by empirical studies (Day and Goldstone 2012).

Minority Students in Israeli Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges

In order to widen access to higher education to minorities, in the early 90s, the universities in Israel have increased their accessibility to the periphery of the country and to weaker populations by establishing multicultural academic colleges. Because of these efforts, the number of Arab academics in the higher education system has increased (Ali 2013). Nevertheless, these opportunities posed ample academic challenges minority students encounter upon accessing higher education. For example, for minority students, Hebrew is usually the third language following Spoken. Arabic (spoken at home and in the Arab public education system in Israel) and Literary Arabic studied in Arab schools (Hai 2012).

In addition to language gaps, students from minority groups cope with discrepancies in information and learning skills, and difficulties in integration that stem from cultural, social, and community aspects (Hendin 2011). Research shows that when transitioning into academic institutions, minority students have to bridge two different cultures: that of their own community and that of the campus. They move from an Arab community that, despite modernization, still retains many traditional features, to a new socio-cultural environment in which Western culture is dominant. This experience tends to specifically impact Arab women—who tend to have less exposure to the dominant Jewish culture prior to their academic studies than their male counterparts (Hagar and Jabareen 2015).

These challenges, which might lead to insufficient academic skills, are not limited to minorities living in Israel. With the growing attention paid to international migration, issues of integration and adaptation of foreigners have emerged as being crucial for the immigrants and the host society (Dixon and Wu 2014). Linguistic integration and mastery of literacy skills in the language(s) of the host country are considered a key element among many success factors in integration. Without adequate levels of literacy, it is very hard to receive further education (Choi and Ziegler 2015).

This Study

Given the exploratory nature of this study, a mixed-methods methodology was used (Creswell 2014) to measure multicultural students’ perceptions of and attitudes towards PA, teacher-centered assessment, and perceived willingness to transfer PA practices to their future classes. Moreover, the relative accuracy of peer ratings compared to teacher ratings of presentation of learning (PoL) was also addressed. Data were gathered and analyzed to assess the following research questions:

Q1

What will be the impact of PA experiences on students’ attitudes towards PA?

Q2

What will be the connection between PA and transfer perceptions?

Q3

What will be the connection between students’ perceptions of and attitudes towards PA and teacher-centered assessment?

Q4

What will be the connection between peer and teacher ratings?

Given the academic challenges minority students encounter upon accessing higher education and with the scant empirical research done thus far aimed at examining these challenges in conjunction with PA, the below hypotheses will be measured within a multicultural classroom to evaluate how a cultural group variable may intersect with and contribute to the research factors.

In line with the above questions, the hypotheses for this research were as follows:

  1. 1.

    Based on past work (e.g., Wu et al. 2012) suggesting that students’ experience and familiarity with the PA process might strengthen their positive attitudes towards it, it was hypothesized that students’ perceptions of and attitudes towards PA will be found more positive after two experiences with PA compared to one (H1).

  2. 2.

    In line with the scant work regarding PA and transfer perceptions (Wu et al. 2012), it was postulated that positive attitudes towards PA will increase students’ perceived willingness to transfer PA practices to their future classes (H2).

  3. 3.

    As PA is associated with the student-centered approach (Panadero 2016), it was postulated that students’ positive perceptions of and attitudes towards PA will decrease their support in teacher-centered assessment (H3).

  4. 4.

    Following past comparisons between peer and teacher ratings (Li et al. 2016), the correlation between peer ratings and teacher ratings was expected to be moderate to strong (H4).

In addition, quantitative data were collected and analyzed followed by the collection and analysis of qualitative data. Thus, the results of the quantitative data analysis were used to inform the subsequent qualitative phase. Creswell (2014) emphasized the superiority of mixed-methods research design in exploratory research. This method builds upon the synergy that exists between the qualitative–quantitative research continuum thus allowing to reinforce research construct validity and to expand the understanding of an explored phenomenon.

Method

Participants

Data were gathered from 120 undergraduate first-year Education (pre-service teachers) students (90% females) from one major college located in the Northern periphery of Israel purposely established in this region to widen access to higher education to Arab minorities. The students were enrolled in a course entitled: ‘Informal and formal education,’ at the first year of their studies. The distribution regarding ethnicity was as follows: 30% Jewish students, 55% Muslim students, 8% Christian students, and 7% Druze students, with a mean age of 22.85 (SD = 5.06) years. Differences between the Jewish and non-Jewish students were found in relation to the following variables:

  1. 1.

    Age (t(113) = 7.87; p < 0.001), non-Jewish students were found significantly younger (M = 20.98, SD = 1.70) than the Jewish students M = 27.68, SD = 7.60).

  2. 2.

    Participants' report on their current economic condition (t(115) = 2.95; p < 0.01), non-Jewish students were found significantly lower (M = 4.09, SD = 1.16) than the Jewish students (M = 4.76, SD = 0.83).

Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14% of the research participants, a total of 17 students, of whom nine minority students (14 females). The teacher who guided the students during the interventions was also interviewed in relation to the results on peer ratings compared to teacher ratings.

Instrumentation

Student Characteristics

Data were gathered using a questionnaire aimed at measuring the student's cultural group, gender, age, socioeconomic status (SES), year of study, and current education achievements. SES was assessed by the student's father's educational attainment (FEA) and mother's educational attainment (MEA), both defined on a six-level scale from 0 = lack of education to 5 = doctoral degree. Another SES factor was the participants' report on their current economic condition (EC), defined on a six-level scale from 1 = extremely difficult to 6 = comfortable, no financial worries.

Students’ Perceptions of and Attitudes Towards PA

This 9-item scale (Wu et al. 2012) is based on a 5-point Likert scale (from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). Unlike the original work, in the current study, exploratory factor analysis was deployed to reveal and validate a possible factor structure of the scale. To this end, all items were subjected to principal component analysis followed by Varimax rotation with eigenvalue > 1.00 as a criterion for determining the number of factors. The analysis resulted in three factors, which accounted together for 69.76% and 66.42% of the variance for Check 1 (after first PA)  and Check 2 (after second PA), respectively. Table 1 presents the item loadings (> 0.40) on each of the four factors. The first factor, Them-to-Me, is focused on the perception of other students’ skills to evaluate my work, for example: “I believe my partner has the necessary skills to accurately assess my work” (four items, α = 0.80 Check 1; α = 0.78 Check 2). The second, Me-to-Them, assesses the individual’s perception of his/her own ability to evaluate other students’ work, e.g., “I believe I have the necessary skills to accurately assess my partner’s work.” (three items, α = 0.81 Check 1; α = 0.71 Check 2); the third deals with transferring the assessment role to the teacher (Teacher-centered assessment): “I believe the assessment of students is the responsibility of faculty and not of other students” (a single-item factor), and; perceived Transfer: “I believe PA is a skill I will use in my teaching career” (a single-item factor). This item loaded on more than one factor, with relatively low loading results. Moreover, the content of the item seems to differ from the content of the factors it related to. Therefore, the researchers considered this as a single-item factor that might also play a role of a criterion variable.

Table 1 Factor loadings for the Students’ perceptions of and attitudes towards PA scale (Check 1 and 2)

Following the general guidelines for skewness and kurtosis (suggesting that if the number is greater than + 1 or lower than -1, then the distribution is skewed, flat, or peaked, (Hair et al. 2017), the variables’ distributions were checked and found normal.

Semi-structure Interviews

The aim of the interviews was to learn how the participants perceived the PA activity, what was the significance of multicultural shared work for them, how they felt about the work processes and products, how they thought the joint work could be improved, and what were their thoughts and feelings towards the PA process. The interviews included questions, such as, ‘Describe the experience you had during the learning and assessment process in each assignment.’

Research Design

The students were given two similar group assignments in line with the project-based learning approach: The first included converting a selected instructional unit into a dilemma-based game (a two-month project—first intervention); the second intervention was also a dilemma-based learning which included searching for different solutions to a moral-based professional dilemma, based on a selected instructional unit (a two-month project, second intervention). The students worked in groups and were required to prepare a presentation of their learning (PoL). Next, the students were asked to assess the PoLs, individually, and in groups, based on an indicator that was previously designed in collaboration with the teacher on a 6-point Likert scale (from 1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree). In addition, they were asked to provide an oral group assessment to the presenters. After each assessment process, the students filled out the research questionnaire (Check 1 = after the first PA, Check 2 = after the second PA). A teacher and a teaching assistant guided the students throughout the interventions. Prior to obtaining participants' consent, it was specified that the questionnaires were anonymous and that no pressure would be applied should they choose to return the questionnaire unfilled or incomplete. Finally, participants were assured that no specific identifying information about the courses would be processed.

Data Analyses

To check H1, a repeated-measures analysis with Wilks' Lambda criterion was applied. This assessment also used structural equation modeling with the maximum likelihood method. Three fit indices were computed in order to evaluate the model fit: χ2(df) (p value should be higher than 0.05), the comparative fit index (CFI) should be higher than 0.9, and the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA). RMSEA less than 0.05 corresponds to a “good” fit and an RMSEA less than 0.08 corresponds to an “acceptable” fit (Bentler 2006). Linear regression analyses were used to evaluate H2 and H3, and a bivariate Pearson correlation analysis was applied to check H4.

The qualitative data analysis process involved examining the gathered data and generating themes from the data (Creswell 2014). Thematic analysis is a widely used qualitative analytic method that offers an accessible and theoretically flexible approach for analyzing qualitative data by searching for themes or patterns concerning different epistemological and ontological positions (Braun and Clarke 2006). Accordingly, common themes were inductively drawn from the interviews. Two researchers, experts in the field of formative assessment, coded the interviews, filtering the most important data and clustering these codes in categories. To increase interrater reliability, two experts in qualitative research were engaged in the iterative dialogue and guided the researchers in grasping the essence of the research findings. Episodes, thoughts, and feelings evoked by the students are reported to increase the reliability of the recurrent and common themes.

Findings

The first research questions (Q1) was aimed at revealing the impact of PA experiences on students’ attitudes towards PA. It was hypothesized that students’ perceptions of and attitudes towards PA will be found more positive after two experiences with PA compared to one (H1).

To check H1, a repeated-measures analysis with Wilks' Lambda criterion was applied to allow the characterization of differences between Check 1 and Check 2 (Check 1 refers to the participants' perceptions of PA after the first intervention; Check 2 pertains to PA perceptions after the second intervention) regarding the four factors of the PA scale. Further, the cultural group variable (Jewish students = 1, minority students = 2) was entered as a covariate. The cultural group dummy variable was created due to insignificant differences between the non-Jewish groups (Muslim, Christian, and Druze) on the dependent variables. Table 2 shows the mean scores, standard deviations, F values, and Eta-squared statistics of the two checks on the four factors.

Table 2 Mean scores, SD, F values, and Eta-squared statistics (η2) of the two checks (1 and 2)

The analysis showed a significant effect of the Cultural group on Me-to-Them (F(df=1) = 5.156, p < 0.05, η2 = 0.022); and Them-to-Me (F(df=1) = 12.013, p < 0.001, η2 = 0.051). However, as shown in Table 2, the only significant result was in the factor Them-to-Me in which a lower mean score was indicated for Check 2 than Check 1.

Further multivariate analysis conducted separately for each cultural group revealed non-significant differences between the checks for the Jewish group on each factor, whereas a significant difference was shown between the checks within the minority group for Them-to-Me (F[df=1] = 10.841, p < 0.001, η2 = 0.065). This group scored a lower result in Check 2 (M = 3.99, SD = 0.85) than in Check 1 (M = 4.43, SD = 0.80). No other significant results were found for this group, yet a positive, non-significant, tendency was observed among the minority group in the Me-to-Them variable between the checks.

Another multivariate analysis, conducted separately within each check between the cultural groups, revealed significant differences between the cultural groups in Check 1 with relation to the factors: Me-to-Them and Them-to-Me as illustrated in Table 3. The minority group students were less confident in their ability to assess others (Me-to-Them), and more confident in others’ competence to evaluate their work (Them-to-Me) compared with the Jewish group. Non-significant results were detected between the cultural groups in Check 2. Model 1 (Fig. 1) was designed to further validate the significant results for Check 1 beyond age and SES. Satisfactory fit results were obtained (χ2 = 7.382, df = 4, p = 0.117; CFI = 0.970; RMSEA = 0.08). The results were significantly confirmed for both connections, the minority group students were less confident in their ability to assess others (Me-to-Them, β = − 0.23, p < 0.05) and more confident in others’ competence to evaluate their work (Them-to-Me, β = 0.25, p < 0.01) compared with the Jewish group beyond age and SES differences. Figures 2 and 3 illustrate the findings of the differences between cultural groups and checks for Me-to-Them and Them-to-Me factors. H1 was clearly not corroborated.

Table 3 Mean scores, SD, F values, and Eta-squared statistics (η2) for Check 1
Fig. 1
figure1

Model 1. Effect of cultural variable on PA constructs (Check 1)

Fig. 2
figure2

Differences between cultural groups and checks for Me-to-Them

Fig. 3
figure3

Differences between cultural groups and checks for Them-to-Me

The second research question (Q2) dealt with the connection between PA and transfer perceptions. It was postulated that positive attitudes towards PA will increase students’ perceived willingness to transfer PA practices to their future classes (H2). A linear regression analysis was used to evaluate H2. The two factors: Them-to-Me and Me-to-Them were entered as independent variables (alongside Culture group) whereas Transfer was the dependent variable. In Check 1, merely the Them-to-Me factor has positively contributed to students’ perceived willingness to transfer PA practices to their future classes (F[3] = 31.174, p = 0.000, R2 = 0.45: Them-to-Me β = 0.570, p < 0.000. Me-to-Them β = 0.171, p > 0.05), whereas in Check 2, both factors have positively contributed to students’ perceived Transfer (F[3] = 12.988 p = 0.000, R2 = 0.26: Them-to-Me β = 0.413, p < 0.000; Me-to-Them β = 0.267, p < 0.001). The Cultural group variable was found insignificantly connected to the dependent variable. H2 was confirmed.

The third research question (Q3) was aimed at exploring the connection between students’ perceptions of and attitudes towards PA and teacher-centered assessment. It was postulated that students’ positive perceptions of and attitudes towards PA will decrease their support in teacher-centered assessment (H3). To check H3, an additional regression analysis was similarly conducted with the Teacher-centered assessment item entered as a dependent variable. The analysis showed non-significant results for Check 1 (F[3] = 2.666 p > 0.05, R2 = 0.068). As for Check 2, the Them-to-Me factor negatively affected students’ conception regarding the teacher’s central role as an assessor (F[3] = 5.661 p < 0.01, R2 = 0.133 Them-to-Me β = − 0.354, p < 0.001). Thus, a positive perception of a student regarding other students’ skills to evaluate his/her work might decrease his/her support in the centrality of the teacher in the assessment process. The Cultural group variable exerted a non-significant effect on the dependent variable. H3 was partially confirmed.

The fourth research question (Q4) was as follows: What will be the connection between peer and teacher ratings? The correlation between peer ratings and teacher ratings was expected to be moderate to strong (H4). To assess H4, the correlation between peer ratings and teacher ratings was measured for each check. Moderate to high Pearson correlations were found: Check 1: r = 0.814, p < 0.01; Check 2: r = 0.558, p < 0.01. In both checks the teacher’s rating (Check 1: M = 5.24, SD = 0.79; Check 2: M = 5.23, SD = 0.55) was found slightly higher than the students' r’tings (Check 1: M = 5.03, SD = 0.38; Check 2: M = 4.87, SD = 0.41). The differences were found significant only in Check 2 (p < 0.01). H4 was approved.

Given the differences between the cultural groups in the above-mentioned results, additional analysis has been conducted to measure the differences between group ratings in each check. An independent samples t-test analysis showed a significant result in Check 1 (t[56] = 3.864 p > 0.001), the minority group’s mean result (M = 5.05, SD = 0.42) was found higher than the Jewish group’s score (M = 4.45, SD = 0.66). Non-significant differences were indicated for Check 2.

Lastly, the following qualitative analysis process involved examining the gathered data and generating themes from the data. The rationale for this approach is that the quantitative results reveal a general picture of the phenomenon under research; qualitative data are needed to refine and interpret the general picture (Creswell 2014). Participants were extensively quoted to support the validity of the inductively drawn themes and the reliability of the findings. The analysis revealed five main themes: teaching, learning, and assessment; group dynamics in a heterogeneous classroom; teacher’s place in the assessment process; transfer of acquired skills to the practical-professional field; and lifelong learning.

Teaching, Learning, and Assessment

The quantitative analysis revealed that students’ perceived PA ability was lower among the minority group in the first check compared to the Jewish group, whereas no difference was found between the two cultural groups in the second examination. Based on the interviewees’ reports, the primary perceived low ability of the Arab students stemmed from their lack of previous experience with the method. For most of them, this was the first time they had experienced individual instruction that encourages reflective thinking, learning in groups and PA. As explained by Nadin, a female Arab student: “We had never worked in groups or assessed our peers. This wasn’t acceptable in Arab schools and wasn’t done in the school where I studied.”

In addition, the students who were asked about the assessment method and their feelings towards it attributed the improvement in their assessment ability to the continuous use of the assessment method. For example, Shirin and Samar (Arab female students) emphasized the teaching method that allowed personal contact with the teacher and receiving feedback for the purpose of advancement and growth:

The lecturer assessed our work during the course and shared the advantages and disadvantages during the discussion with the group. It was very difficult for me to accept the lecturer’s criticism at first. It was hard for me to hear the disadvantages, or as the lecturer defined it – criticism for the purpose of advancement and growth. This taught me that nothing is perfect and that you have to work hard to succeed. At the second time, the teacher’s feedback was very positive, and I felt good that the teacher saw that there was an improvement. I felt that I was better and that I was capable of making corrections and comments to other groups.

Group Dynamics in a Heterogeneous Classroom

Another important finding that was shown in the quantitative research was that at the first check the Arab students perceived the ability of their classmates (Jews and Arabs) to assess them more positively than the Jewish students did. After the second intervention, there was a significant decline in this perception, and the gap between Jews and Arabs decreased to a point where it was no longer significant. Similarly, during the first examination, the Arab students gave high scores to their peers for their presentation than Jews, while during the second examination no significant gap was found between the groups. Iyat (female Arab student), provided an explanation, “I had to offer feedback to my friends, and I felt uncomfortable doing that because I was studying with friends whom I had known from school. It was hard for me. However, when I worked in a group in which the Jewish students led the work, they demanded that everyone fulfill the assignments, and didn’t feel any social obligation or let anyone off easy”.

The Teacher’s Place in the Assessment Process

The findings of the quantitative research showed that the positive perception of PA explains the variable of the central role of the lecturer in the assessment process only after the second examination. A negative correlation was found between the two factors. However, only 13.3% of the dependent variable was explained by the perception of PA. During the interviews, the students explained that despite the importance of PA, the lecturer still has to play a central role in the assessment process due to professional reasons. For example, Dotan, (a Jewish male student) claimed that

As a professional, the lecturer is liable to offer more correct feedback because he knows the material, but I don’t know the material as the lecturer does. From the standpoint of contents, for example, I listen to students talking about educational reform, and I can listen, but how do I know whether what was said is correct? I don’t think that I can offer feedback from the standpoint of information.

The high correlation between the teacher’s and the students’ ratings was explained by the process of defining the assessment criteria, as expressed by the teacher,

The process of determining criteria is important, although complex. I created the first draft and brought it to the class. The students read it and offered comments. Some of the criteria were consequently changed. For example, during the second assignment, the students commented that the claims supporting the groups’ position need to be distinguished from each other. Those criteria were added to the list… During the next lesson, we reviewed the wording of the criteria following additional criticism on the part of the students who had reread it at home.

Transfer of Acquired Skills to the Practical-Professional Field

The quantitative research findings showed that in the second check, the two independent variables connected to perceptions of PA—Me-to-Them and Them-to-Me—explained the dependent variable of Transfer. During the interviews, some of the students spoke about the uniqueness and contribution of the method of learning and assessment towards developing skills that educators need to excel in their professional work. Several students emphasized the added value of group PA for work in the field of education, for example, Asma’a (Arab female) explained: “The need to assess other students’ work forced me to listen to their presentation, to concentrate during the lesson, and to think about the presentation in terms of the criteria that we chose. I’ll use this when I am a teacher because it makes the students concentrate and forces them to think by themselves as well as together.”

Lifelong Learning

Some of the students related to PA from the aspect of lifelong learning. They claimed that the skills that they acquired during the learning and assessment processes need to be strengthened throughout the individual learning process from a young age and throughout the students’ lives. This was emphasized by Avi (Jewish male):

Assessing yourself, listening to your group peers’ assessment, dialogue to establish group assessment, listening to others’ opinions, and getting used to the idea that your opinion isn’t always accepted (things that are difficult for me), and learning from criticism. These are some of the skills that are learned through PA. I think that this learning needs to be repeated and expanded and deepened, like a spiral that’s never-ending. It needs to start small at a young age and expanded during the various stages of education.

Discussion

The overarching aim of this mixed-methods research was to measure multicultural students’ perceptions of and attitudes towards PA, teacher-centered assessment, and perceived willingness to transfer PA practices to their future classes. Another aim was to gauge the relative accuracy of peer ratings compared to teacher ratings.

The quantitative analysis revealed that the perception of self–efficacy to hand over feedback to peers was lower among the minority group in the first check, while a non-significant difference was found between the cultural groups (Jews and minorities) in the second check. A positive but non-significant trend was observed for this variable among the minority group in the second check. The qualitative research findings associated this improvement with the teaching and learning methods experienced between the examinations. In other words, the participants emphasized the connection between teaching–learning–assessment and the strengthening of all the components of this triangle as the basis for their perception of PA ability.

This premise can be supported by researches (Alt and Raichel 2018; Black et al. 2003) who argue that teaching, learning, and assessment have to be interactive. Teachers need to deepen their knowledge about their students’ needs and adapt their work to meet those, often unpredictable and individual, needs. Teachers can gather this information by ‘assessment’ activities, and by their students in assessing themselves. This may provide useful information to modify the teaching and learning activities, as reported by the students in the current study.

Another finding showed a significant difference between the cultural groups regarding the Them-to-Me variable. During the first check, the Arab students perceived the capability of their classmates to assess them in a more positive manner than the Jewish students. During the second examination, a significant decrease occurred in this perception, and the gap between the groups was non-significant. A similar trend was found in the results of the grading. In the first check, the Arab students gave their peers significantly higher grades for their presentations than the Jewish students. However, in the second examination, a non-significant gap was found between the two groups. The qualitative data explicated these findings. During the first examination, the obligation to the cultural group received more importance among the minority group. However, after gaining more familiarity with other students’ collaborative working techniques in heterogeneous groups, the Arab students’ critique of their classmates increased.

This can be explained by previous work on Arab culture which reinforces a collectivist orientation and stresses the priority of the extended family over that of the individual compared with Western societies (Alt and Geiger 2012). Geiger (2013) claims that during their studies, Arab students, who live in secluded villages, encounter students of various ethnic backgrounds for the first time. It may be suggested that for them, the exposure to an individualistic culture mainly takes place in higher education settings. Based on the current study, it is reasonable to assume that increasing the familiarity between the two groups of students resulted in a more extensive criticism towards their peers, and assessment of their capabilities and their work according to criteria that are more professional and less subjective.

Additional findings in the quantitative research revealed that a positive perception of PA might decrease students’ perceived centrality of the teacher in the assessment process. However, only 13.3% of the dependent variable was explained by the PA factor. The qualitative research findings revealed that despite the importance of PA, the students felt that for professional reasons, the lecturer should continue to assume a central role in the assessment process.

Several studies (Baeten et al. 2010; Gijbels et al. 2008) may corroborate these results claiming that students’ adjustment to a method that focuses on the learner and the learning outcomes might be challenging. Undergraduate students were mainly exposed to traditional teaching methods throughout their school years so that statements such as “A good teacher is a teacher who delivers the material well” express their previous experiences with a method that emphasizes the teacher’s centrality in the learning process, defined as a ‘banking method’ (Alt and Raichel 2018).

Regarding teacher vs. student ratings, the findings indicated a moderate to high correlations between the variables. The qualitative data highlight the importance of shared responsibility in the process of assessment criteria developing. A clear definition of criteria and engagement of students in the process makes the grading criteria more transparent (Panadero 2016; Topping 2019).

With relation to Transfer of learning, the findings of the quantitative research showed that two independent variables connected to the perception of PA explained this variable in the second check. In other words, students’ positive perceptions of PA will increase the application of this type of assessment in the students’ classrooms in the future. The data of the qualitative research contributed to the understanding of the quantitative research model. The interviewees highlighted the importance of the skills they acquired during the learning and assessment process to their future work in the classroom.

Several students connected PA to learning throughout their lives and claimed that in order to strengthen the skills they acquired in the learning and PA processes it is important to apply these methods within the framework of education for the younger generation. Su (2015) strengthens this notion by arguing that assessment for lifelong learning involves not just formative or summative assessment applied in a single course or a study program but deals with the need to continuously develop the learners’ skills to effectively use assessment tools that they can use independently without a teacher’s presence.

Limitations, Conclusions, and Implications

The present work features limitations and further directions for future research that warrant mentioning. Future research should consider expanding the data tested in this study with additional variables that could be related to PA. For example, self‐efficacy and motivation for learning, and performances (Hsia et al. 2015). In addition, this research was restricted to project-based learning, presentation of learning and PA based on an indicator. However, other learning environments should be tested to deeply understand the opportunities and challenges embedded in the PA approach.

Lastly, in this study, students’ perception of Transfer was measured, and not their actual behavior. They have been asked about their perceived intention to transfer the skills learned to their future class, however, given their current status, observations of activities in their future classes obviously could not be gathered. Nonetheless, drawing on Fishbein and Ajzen’s theory of reasoned action (Ajzen and Fishbein 2005) and its descendants such as Ajzen’s (1988) theory of planned behavior, a line can be drawn between attitudes and behaviors. This theory is used to predict how individuals will behave based on their pre-existing attitudes and behavioral intentions. Engaging in behavior is based on the outcomes the individual expects will come as a result of performing the behavior. In the context of the current study, if, for example, the students believe that they will transfer the PA practices to their future classes then it is plausible to assume that they will act to do so in practice. Moreover, in conjunction with the self-efficacy theory (Bandura 1986), it can be assumed that both the belief in one’s ability and the expected positive outcomes may determine the individual’s actual behavior. However, future work should consider gaining observational data to establish these connections.

The present study emphasizes that when applying alternative assessment methods, it is necessary to recognize the students, their culture, their preferences, and learning challenges. It appears that some of the students needed a significantly more help not only from the academic aspect but also from the emotional aspect as well in order to boost their perception of themselves as being capable of successfully implementing the assignments they received. Individual help, which was accompanied by feedback from the teacher, contributed to the students’ positive perception regarding their ability to assess others.

Strengthening student-centered learning is necessary to establish students’ capability in skills connected to assessment. In other words, we need to adopt a holistic approach when applying PA that places emphasis upon strengthening learning skills over a period of time. This will eventually contribute to the students’ perception of their place in assessing their peers and will increase their perception of themselves as being capable of offering a fair and professional assessment.

This study illuminates the different aspects of minority students on how those students experience the learning and assessment processes, and the challenges these methods encompass for them in a heterogeneous classroom. Students who come from collectivist societies are confronted with a greater challenge when attempting to offer a fair assessment to their peers since social considerations often outweigh professional judgment. However, activities in heterogeneous groups combined with proper guidance can promote critical thinking among students towards their peers and encourage the preference of professional considerations over subjective ones.

It also appears that students’ perception regarding the central role of the teacher in the assessment process is an additional challenge. Formative forms of assessment challenge the traditional relations of power that exist in the university and its academic and professional fields. Developing formative assessment is not merely to adopt new assessment techniques; it is to fundamentally realign power relationships and to redefine what it means to be an ‘authority’ or ‘expert’ in a particular field (Lorente and Kirk 2013). First-year students who were previously accustomed to teacher-based assessment are liable not to accept these changes easily as implied by this study. The findings of this study can help in understanding the factors that contribute to accepting this change: strengthening students’ positive perceptions in this context. As students’ faith in themselves and their peers as being capable of offering fair and professional feedback increases, their perception of the teacher as playing a prominent role in assessment may diminish.

Another implication is that embedding PA within an educational program is vital to promote and sustain students’ potential and skills to use this method. This should include open discussions about the topic in the classroom, participation in writing the assessment criteria, and integrating rationale for decisions about personal and group assessment together with extensive use of PA in courses. All these may foster a deeper development of evaluation skills. According to the proposed research model, this could also lead to increased students’ motivation to transfer these skills to their practical and professional fields. Given this study’s limitations, further research on PA in the context of minorities’ learning needs might illuminate aspects related to academic skills of multicultural students and provide useful tools for faculty to nurture these students' learning skills and self-efficacy perceptions.

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Alt, D., Raichel, N. Higher Education Students’ Perceptions of and Attitudes Towards Peer Assessment in Multicultural Classrooms. Asia-Pacific Edu Res 29, 567–580 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40299-020-00507-z

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Keywords

  • Higher education
  • Peer assessment
  • Heterogeneous classrooms
  • Sequential explanatory study