Assessment as Learning: Using PeerWise for collaborative online learning

WU Jinlu
Department of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Science (FoS)

Jinlu shares his experience of attempting to transform assessment practice in his course (from assessment of learning to assessment as learning) through the application of PeerWise as a space for students to author, rate, and answer assessment questions.

Photo courtesy of NUS Graduate School


Wu J. L. (2021, Nov 25). Assessment as learning: Using PeerWise for collaborative online learning. Teaching Connections.


PeerWise is a free web-based platform for students to create, answer, and review multiple-choice questions (MCQs) in a collaborative environment, providing opportunities for students to perform and reflect on their learning. It integrates both gamification and social features into its platform, awarding scores and badges to participants based largely on the quality and quantity of student-authored questions, submitted answers as well as the ratings from their peers. The scores, badges and student work (authored questions, comments, etc) can be easily downloaded from the server for learning analysis and grading.

Assessment of learning (AoL) and assessment for learning (AfL) have dominated assessment activities, with teachers being firmly in charge of creating and marking the test (Earl, 2003). However, assessment as learning (AaL) emerged recently as a preferred approach as it moves the central characters from teachers to the students (Dann, 2014). During AaL, students are active, engaged and critical assessors, they make sense of the information, relate it to prior knowledge, and master the skills involved. Students monitor their own learning and use the feedback from this monitoring to make adjustments and adaptions in learning. Thus, AaL is suggested to be used as a foundation assessment form, as shown in the reconfigured assessment pyramid in Figure 1. In the traditional assessment pyramid, student learning is primarily assessed by teacher-designed questions. In the reconfigured assessment pyramid, AaL is an essential foundation for both AoL and AfL. It engages students into both active learning and assessment, blurring the boundaries of assessment and learning (Dann, 2014). This is especially needed in the current COVID-19 situation, where students are learning remotely at home and physically isolated. They need monitor their own learning continuously.

The dominant form of assessment is shifted from assessment of learning (AoL) to assessment as learning (AaL)
Figure 1. The dominant form of assessment is shifted from assessment of learning (AoL) to assessment as learning (AaL) (adapted from Earl, 2003).


I have been using PeerWise since Academic Year (AY) 2016/17 in LSM1102 “Molecular Genetics”, a compulsory module with a large enrolment (200-300 students per semester). In the PeerWise assignment, each student had to author at least four MCQs, answer at least five questions, and write at least five comments on their peers’ questions to get a score of five points that will be taken into their final grade (see Appendix A for examples of student-authored MCQs on PeerWise). The task must be completed in five weeks, and a weekly timeline was introduced to keep students moving along at a similar pace to my lectures. To motivate students and subsequently raise levels of participation, I explained the rationale for using PeerWise, particularly how participating on the platform can benefit their learning and enhance their capacity to author high-quality questions (see Appendix B).

In all the semesters, a vast majority of students managed to finish much more than the required numbers. Except for the five points that students got for this assignment, awarded scores and badges by the PeerWise programme enabled them to assess how well they performed among their peers. A survey conducted recently for the AY2020/21 student cohort showed that while the majority of students expended the most effort in authoring MCQs, answering MCQs was the most preferred learning activity (Figure 2). They answered around 20-50 questions on average in different semesters, far more than was required.

A bar chart with the percentage showing the student’s participation and perception in three types of learning activities on the PeerWise platform
Figure 2. A bar chart with the percentage showing the student’s participation and perception in three types of learning activities on the PeerWise platform.


The figure also shows that about half the respondents perceived authoring MCQs to be the most effective, while the other half perceived answering the MCQs as being the most effective for learning among the three learning activities. Since creating quality MCQs is time-consuming and requires considerable effort, and given that it is an essential foundation to achieve the benefits of collaborative learning, lecturers need to strategically encourage students to produce high quality MCQs.

Pearson analysis revealed positive correlations between students’ examination scores and their scores given by the PeerWise platform, such as total reputation scores, question authoring scores, answering scores, and the number of badges. The positive correlation can be an indicator of the effectiveness of AaL, although multiple factors may also affect students’ examination performance. The potential of using PeerWise for AaL is further backed by student feedback: their trust in their peers’ academic capabilities, their intrinsic motivation to learn and assess their knowledge in a collaborative environment (data not shown in this post, but survey questions are available in Appendix C).

A flowchart (Figure 3) shows the steps for an instructor to start using PeerWise. Other pedagogical applications of using PeerWise are available online.

Flowchart on how to get started with PeerWise for classroom activities and instruction.
Figure 3. Flowchart on how to get started with PeerWise for classroom activities and instruction.


PeerWise is a good tool for classroom activities and instruction. However, it needs to be complemented by good instructional design, which takes into consideration the conditions conducive for AaL, and more specifically, peer assessment to take place. The PeerWise platform can create such an environment for active learning in large classes and as shown in this study, can motivate students to engage in higher-order cognitive skills.


Wu Jinlu

WU Jinlu is a senior lecturer from the Department of Biological Sciences, at the Faculty of Science (FoS). He teaches a few modules with large student enrollment, and is particularly interested in exploring technological and pedagogical approaches for active learning in large classes.

Jinlu can be reached at



I am grateful to two research assistants: Chew Kah Xun, Sherlynn and Mical Tan Wei Jie for their help with data collection and analyses; students participated in survey; colleagues in co-teaching this module, and grant support from CDTL.



Earl, L. (2003) Assessment as Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximise Student Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA, Corwin Press.

Dann, R. (2014) Assessment as learning: blurring the boundaries of assessment and learning for theory, policy and practice. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 21(2), 149-166,



Appendix A. Examples of Student-authored Questions on PeerWise & Comments From Peers

Appendix B. Instruction for PeerWise Assignment

Appendix C. Survey Questions on Qualtrics