Case study: Teaching transferable skills through online peer collaboration and assessment


School of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Science
University of Bristol

Tools used


Marc Holderied,


Marc has led the re-development of a compulsory second year unit "Science and Success: Writing, Speaking and Communicating Science". Marc switched from a paper-based to an online system. All aspects including submissions, peer collaboration, feedback, and marking happen online, using Blackboard. Feedback data is downloaded from Blackboard into Excel, where it is manipulated and turned into feedback packages for students.

e-Learning was introduced in this unit in order to improve learner experience and independence, and reduce staff workload.

A 5 minute narrated video tour (screencast) of the Blackboard courses used is available. (.mp4 file)


This unit delivers a range of transferable skills (particularly writing and oral presentation in a biological context) to 130 students. This is achieved by a range of authentic peer-group activities and work including role play, including:

  1. Students write and anonymously peer review scientific papers
  2. Students all give a presentation
  3. They apply for a job in biology and then shortlist and interview each other in peer panels.
  4. Because many Bristol students are interested in science journalism they then write texts for ARKive - the audio-visual record of life on Earth. Science journalists annotate and mark these student texts and most get published online.
  5. By the end of week five each student receives an extensive 10 page feedback package on their performance so far. They then use this feedback to write a Personal development plan.

All elements have a strong peer component (mostly online).

What was done

Blackboard is used in a number of ways:

  1. Course administration, including successive information disclosure, communication, individual student and peer group management and timetabling e.g. of interviews, presentations, and submission deadlines.
  2. Online group collaboration with repeated peer review and marking of submitted work, using the group file exchange tool
  3. Providing anonymity in a separate Blackboard site with alias logins, allowing students to mutually peer-review in small groups (much as is standard practice in the academic community)
  4. Distribution of students’ work to academic tutors and science journalists for marking.
  5. Individual return of annotated and marked digital copies of student submissions.
  6. Online tests and grading including collation of peer assessment and tutor marks.
  7. Providing data for generation (via Excel and mailmerge) of individual ‘feedback packages’ consisting of generic and individual feedback


Marc has been awarded the University e-learning prize 2010-11 for his work on this unit. Students themselves consider it a "great unit", and one said "I went into it thinking it was a waste of time but [it is] VERY helpful!" Another commented: "you will be guided through the process and come out a better, more confident person".
Creative use of Blackboard tools tremendously improved learner experience as well as detail and timeliness of individual feedback. The same unit or its elements but 'flavoured' with a different subject could easily be used in any Department.