PeerWise: biology

PeerWisdom: Evaluating and boosting biology student benefits from the PeerWise online learning tool.

Principal applicant: Dr Heather McQueen

Team members:

  • Professor David Finnegan
  • Dr Martin Simmen


We aim to investigate academic benefits to second year biology students using the online participatory learning tool PeerWise, which allows students to create, answer, rate and discuss multiple choice questions about course content.

We have used PeerWise for the past two years in the key second year course Genes and Gene Action where student PeerWise activity contributes a small proportion of the overall assessment. We will present a full case study by analysing quantitative performance data accumulated over 3 years of use (including this coming year), and by aligning this information with descriptive and feedback information on the use of the tool in this course.

We will also devise means to rate question quality with respect to the learning processes required to set the question. This biology-specific rating scheme will be used to rate relevant samples of questions and will provide qualitative evidence of performance in the case study. ln response to the suggestion from a previous analysis that mid-ability students benefit less from PeerWise activity, perhaps due to failure to engage with the task on a "deep" level, we will provide optional extra support (or "scaffolding") and investigate any resulting academic benefits either quantitative or qualitative as described above.

Lastly our findings will highlight strategies for reaping nnaximum student benefits from the PeerWise system which will inform our own use, but will also be disseminated for use by colleagues introducing PeerWise in other Biology and Biomedical courses, as well as use elsewhere.