This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

The thought of using student-generated content in your teaching may at first seem absurd. However, nowadays the social norm in terms of learning is changing with Web 2.0 websites and applications that are constructed of user-generated rather than expert-generated content. The huge repositories of videos (You Tube), images (Instagram), social profiles (Facebook) all of which have been contributed by other users are now being used for learning. Students are becoming more and more familiar with the value of user-generated content.

Using this user-generated content in education creates a collaborative environment for learning.  Not only are the students motivated to see the content they posted being used by others, but also, having to reflect on their own contributions as well as on the contribution of others, helps develop critical thinking skills.

At a SALTISE workshop in June 2018, Dr. Paul Denny from the University of Auckland introduced PeerWise a free web-based tool that supports students working collaboratively to create a large annotated bank of multiple-choice questions.

What is PeerWise?

PeerWise is an online repository of multiple-choice questions that are created, answered, rated and discussed by students.


PeerWise is a storehouse of multiple-choice questions that are created by the students. The idea behind asking students to create the questions is to get them actively involved with the course content and to reflect on the important concepts and ideas that they have seen in class.

Multiple-choice questions are a good format because students have to think up alternatives to the correct answer and in doing that they have to consider possible misconceptions their classmates may have about the question. Thinking about the content and what makes a question effective fosters the use of higher-order cognitive skills.

Learning from peers

A really important step of the question-authoring process is writing an explanation. This is where the students play the role of a teacher and try to explain in their own words why the answer to their question is correct. They have to explain the important concepts and ideas; in doing so, students reinforce their understanding.

Upon answering a question, the student will be shown the author’s explanation for the answer. These explanations can be particularly useful to classmates who chose the wrong answer and can help them understand what they may have done incorrectly.

Because the students are creating a number of questions and sharing them with their colleagues, these questions become a very useful review resource. Students can attempt as many of their peers’ the questions as they like and get immediate feedback about their answers.

To write their own question, students provide the question text and a choice of answers. They indicate which answer is correct correct and provide an explanation for it. They can associate related topics by using tags (keywords).

Steps students follow to contribute a question to PeerWise

Interacting like on the social web

The interactions in this tool are designed to be very social.  Students rate the questions for quality and difficulty. Then they can comment on the quality of each others’ questions.  Students can agree or disagree with comments in the discussions. Of course, teachers can post comments on any question. However, getting the students to perform this moderation encourages them to make good use of their critical analysis skills.

Using the aggregate ratings, students can search by quality, difficulty and topic to find questions of interest to them as well as follow authors who contribute questions that they like.

Rest assured, all of this activity remains anonymous to students. Teachers are able to view the identity of students who created a question or wrote a comment and can delete these questions or comments if necessary.

Students motivated by a little competition

Whether competing against others or competing against themselves, the point scoring system in PeerWise provides the competitive individuals in the class with a gaming style approach for study.

Leader-boards exist allowing the students to compare their performance against that of the most active users.  For the real gamers, the higher the points they obtain the more motivated they are to try to become number one. The total score that appears on the leaderboard is composed of individual scores for question writing, answering questions and rating existing questions.

The leaderboard includes the top rated questions, the most popular contributors and the highest scorers.

Other students may be more motivated by competing against themselves in the sense that they want to do better on an exercise than they did the day before.  Looking at the PeerWise score gives those students an idea of how well they are doing compared with the rest of the class and thus gives them a goal to work towards improving their own score.

The student’s score is displayed in the top right hand corner of the Main Menu

Teachers can also monitor participation.

Student’s participation in PeerWise can be viewed by both students themselves and the teacher using the administrator button.

Would you like to try PeerWise in your class?

Paul Denny mentioned that there are pros and cons to this model.  Of course there may be some lower quality questions posted (although this provides an opportunity for constructive critique that is generally not present in instructor-approved question banks). On the upside, teachers benefit from:

  • Early feedback on which topics students are more confident with and which topics students are not engaged with
  • Access to large test banks of multiple-choice questions designed specifically to test the course content
  • A tool to use to get students to collaborate in large classes

The creator of PeerWise gave the following suggestions for including it in your class:

  • Allocate a small percentage of course marks (around 2-5% of the students’ final grade) for participation. This ensures that enough students contribute questions to make the repository worthwhile, and it shows students that the activity is important.
  • Require students contribute 2 or 3 questions, giving time to create quality questions and thus not lower overall quality of the repository.
  • Require students answer a minimum of 20 questions per session although they will probably answer more on a voluntary basis as they can select questions for their review.
  • Motivate students by selecting some of the best student-generated questions to appear in formative or summative evaluation activities.

If you are interested in using PeerWise for one of your classes there is a treasure trove of information for instructors (general information, how to create a new course, community resources, videos, publications) as well as a guide for students.

I would be interested in hearing of your experience with PeerWise.

About the author

Susan MacNeil

She has had a busy career in education. With a M.Ed she taught all levels from kindergarten to university. However, most of her career was spent at the college level teaching ESL. She gave Performa courses, lead workshops at SPEAQ, RASCALS and l’AQPC. She served at the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur where she contributed to the evaluation of the general education components. She received grants from L’Entente Canada-Québec for various
research projects. Susan is also the recipient of the AQPC Mention d’honneur Award. Having retired from teaching she became a contributor to Real Life Stories of education technology integration at Eductive. Chinese ink painting helps her relax and travel keeps her energized.

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