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Digital education

PeerWise in the School of Chemistry

13 April 2022
E learning conceptual image - top view of female hands holding white headphones plugged into laptop computer next to an open notebook.
E learning conceptual image - top view of female hands holding white headphones plugged into laptop computer next to an open notebook.

Written by Dr James Redman

PeerWise is a web-based system for students to create, answer and critique multiple choice questions to support their learning. The process of authoring questions and their answer options stimulates thinking about learning outcomes, concepts and misconceptions. In this project a student worked with Dr James Redman to investigate how PeerWise might be applied within the context of the School of Chemistry’s degree programmes.

We set up courses within PeerWise corresponding to core modules in years 1 – 3 of the chemistry degree programmes and familiarised ourselves with the process of question authoring. The editor allows formatting with superscripts, subscripts, and inclusion of the Greek alphabet and images within the question and answer options. These are essential features for questions which include chemical structures, formulae and graphical data. We produced a question creation guide and video for students that discusses question design and demonstrates the process of setting up a question.

Focus groups were run with chemistry students to discuss their views on PeerWise. The students were given access to PeerWise prior to the focus group, and then asked about how they felt towards the concept of PeerWise, as well as the mechanics of creating and answering questions. Students felt that question authoring encouraged deeper thinking and that the process of entering a question is straightforward. However, concerns were expressed about the quality of questions created by other students, particularly whether the “correct” answer is indeed correct. It was suggested that moderation by staff might be required to ensure quality. Students also asked whether they could adapt questions originally written by staff for exams and workshops even though this would negate many of the benefits of authoring.

PeerWise was introduced to an autumn semester Year 2 chemistry module as a formative task. The support videos and guides were provided on Learning Central/Panopto, and the system was promoted in a lecture. The take-up was low, based on number of logins, although comparable with engagement with other formative activities on the same module. Future plans are to continue with PeerWise next academic year on this module, but to introduce it earlier and give suggestions for question creation as post-lecture activities to repeatedly encourage engagement and build up a question bank.