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In the projects of one of my courses, I have asked the students to provide peer assessments of the presentations (recorded as videos) of other groups. Peer evaluations is something I have introduced recently: with classes online I wanted to find a way to encourage students to watch the presentations of other groups. Groups have 4–5 members. The evaluations are anonymous and are shared with the evaluated group in full. In general the system has worked well, with perhaps one exception ...

As part of the peer assessment, a number of categories were provided. One of these related to the quality of the presentation. I've noted that in a number of cases, the students have commented about the lack of confidence of a specific speaker affecting the overall presentation quality. In certain cases there are several comments about the lack of confidence of a particular speaker affecting the quality of the presentation; in some cases the comment clearly indicates which speaker is referred to.

As the professor of the course, I personally would not comment on such issues as I also have (had) my own demons regarding public speaking, and I think such a comment might be counterproductive in terms of knocking a student's confidence; in general I would try to be positive in such situations based on the personal experience that generous comments helped my own confidence.

I'm wondering if I should edit these peer assessments to "censor" such comments about students who are nervous when speaking. On the one hand, it feels a bit harsh to criticise someone for something they find difficult to control, and I worry about a student being troubled by such comments. On the other hand, I dislike the idea of censoring honest feedback; the categories are associated with grades, and removing such comments might make the grade seem unfair; also perhaps I also misjudge the situation and such feedback can be constructive in a way?

My question is about whether or not such comments are constructive, and if not, would it be justifiable and/or wise to remove or censor them in the peer assessments?

(I have also thought about changing the comment so that it is not clear which speaker is being spoken about, but with such small groups I think it will be clear in any case.)

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Don't confuse peer assessment, which affect grades, with peer feedback, which needn't. The comments are useful as feedback and, since your students are probably inexperienced at such presentations need a lot more practice to become skilled at it. "You seem nervous" is useful to hear, but nervousness shouldn't affect grading. In fact, being effective in spite of it is a good thing.

I once had a student who stuttered so badly that he was difficult to understand. One of the requirements in the course was that each team member had to be part of the project presentation. He did what was necessary.

And, I think that peer assessment should be filtered through the professor rather than applied in a mechanical way. If a grading related assessment is unfair, the professor needs to moderate it. And students should also get feedback on their feedback so that they learn how to do it better. Your students are probably inexperienced in presentations, but they are also probably inexperienced in giving constructive feedback.

And when possible, feedback as well needs to be filtered as necessary. Some happens outside the professor's view of course, but the feedback needs to support learning both for the giver and the receiver.

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    OP asks whether the comments are constructive, and this answer addresses that (affirmatively). However, OP also raises the question of whether it is appropriate for them to censor feedback that is not constructive, and this answer doesn't address that. I.e.: granted that the feedback in this case is constructive, should the instructor censor feedback in a case in which the feedback is not constructive, or is actively counterproductive? – Ceph Dec 15 '20 at 20:17
  • @Ceph, yes, feedback should also be filtered through the professor when possible. – Buffy Dec 15 '20 at 21:02
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I do not see any reason why a comment like "the speaker was nervous" or "the speaker lacke confidence" should be censored, so I would not censor it.

it feels a bit harsh to criticise someone for something

This is not technically criticism; it also is not really useful, or harmful.

something they find difficult to control

Speaking with the appearance of confidence is something that is achieved with practice. So for most people, they can control it by practicing.

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    I am highly skeptical of peer assessment in general, and I hope you provided training on what students should include before you had them do it. – Anonymous Physicist Dec 15 '20 at 7:23

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