Peer Assessment in Irish Medical Science Education: Exploring Staff Assessment Literacy and Assessment Practice

McGrath, Mary F., Scott, Lloyd and Logue, Pauline (2020) Peer Assessment in Irish Medical Science Education: Exploring Staff Assessment Literacy and Assessment Practice. Practitioner Research in Higher Education, 13 (1). pp. 37-56.


The approach to, and the type of, assessment(s) that a Higher Education (HE) programme employs can be key factors in the effectiveness of assessment as a tool of learning. Peer assessment (PA) has the potential to develop the evaluative competence of students in HE. In the Republic of Ireland (RoI) there are three Institutes that each deliver a professionally validated honours degree programme in Medical/Biomedical Science. The aim of this paper is to report on the experiences and views of the academic staff involved in these three programmes with respect to assessment. Presented here is one aspect of a larger study into assessment practices in the education of Irish Medical Scientists with the overall aim being the development of a framework for the structured inclusion of PA. An insight into the current practices, experiences and views of staff is an essential step in the development of an effective framework. All academic staff (n=80) involved in the three programmes were invited to complete an online anonymous survey. Employing a mixed methods design, the survey incorporated closed questions e.g. subject area, years of experience and formal teaching qualifications, and open questions including staff's understanding of the terminology of assessment, if they use PA, their reasons for choosing PA and any challenges they may have encountered. Thirty-five staff responded to the survey; all three institutes were represented. The thematic analysis of the qualitative data demonstrated that staff generally see assessment as a 'measure' (grade or mark) of understanding and knowledge. The distinction between formative and summative assessment was not clear for all staff; 19/33 staff described summative assessment as an 'end of module' exam and 13/33 staff referred to formative assessment as being 'continuous' or 'ongoing'. There was clear evidence of a lack of use of terms associated with assessment; such as 'assessment as, of and for learning'. Eleven of the respondents use PA in their module(s), they reported the positives and challenges of PA as they experienced e.g. increased student engagement, importance of student preparation. The results of this study confirm the need for, and provides a justification of, building a best practice framework for PA in HE Medical Science education in RoI.

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