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Peer Assessment barriers faced by international students engaging in project-based courses Peer Assessment barriers faced by international students engaging in project-based courses

Structured Abstract 


Project-based courses building on teamwork, communication and collaboration skills are compulsory for  all  students  at  The  University  of  Queensland  (UQ)  where  11%  of  first-year  students  identify themselves  as  international.  Many  of  these  students  find  difficulty  in  adapting  to  western  culture,  in particular the learning culture (Chang & Chin, 1999). Students are often accustomed to the Confucian system which commonly focuses on transmission-based learning (lectures) and assessment through technical competence (exams) and there is little to no team work in this system (Gorry, 2011).  Teamwork  underpinning  two  compulsory  first-year  project-based  courses  is  evaluated  through  Peer Assessment (PA) that asks students to rate each other on the basis of four sub-areas: Teamwork and Leadership, Overall Contribution, Timeliness, and Quality of Work. PA occurs 4 times in the first-year of study; PA results are returned to student teams via a mentor to aid team development, and are also used to scale assessment marks. However international students (IS) perform poorly in these project-based courses, attracting low PA and grades due to poor quality of work, lack of contribution and/ or poor  engagement  (Chen  &  Kavanagh,  2013).  In  addition,  domestic  students  have  highlighted communication  and  lack  of  task  understanding  as  problem  areas  for  international  students  and domestic students often respond with discontent and resentment.  


In order to address transitional barriers faced by IS, a series of support modules are designed through: 

  • identification of any PA sub-areas IS are struggling with; and
  • review of feedback IS received from their teammates and tutors. 


The four sub-areas of PA were investigated through graphical interpretation. Differences between the two  cohorts  (international  vs.  domestic)  were  then  correlated  with  written  feedback  given  by  team members. Semantic analysis was carried out using the TeXTT online platform and Leximancer and findings were further verified by manual thematic analysis. 


IS  are  graded  lower  in  all  PA  categories,  in  particular  Teamwork  and  Leadership,  and  Overall Contribution  to  the  project.  Feedback  provided  by  peers  and  tutors  highlight  quietness  and  lack  of participation in discussions as problem areas. A significant amount of IS were heavily penalised in the PA  scores  due  to  missing  team  meetings.  Semantic  analysis  of  student  comments  also  showed inability to attend meetings in a timely fashion and quality of work as key barriers faced. 


IS struggle to transition into project-based courses where they are required to work in teams. This is evident  through  skewed  PA  results  and  feedback  provided  by  staff  and  team  members.  Language barriers  as  well  as  differences  in  educational  expectations  are  likely  to  be  the  causes  for  the transitional  barriers  faced  by  IS.  A  contextual  academic  engineering  language  course  has  been designed  and  piloted  following  the  findings  of  this  research.  This  program  will  aid  students  in transitioning into foreign learning environments and integrate more effectively into engineering teams. 


Peer assessment, International students, First-year, Teamwork. 

Created 2016-11-19
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Created by Lynette
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