ComPAIR Instructor Guide

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ComPAIR is UBC’s homegrown peer review tool that adds comparing to the process of students reviewing one another’s work. In ComPAIR, students see pairs of their peers’ assignments presented side-by-side for criteria-guided comparison and feedback.

Students learn by comparing 1 and identifying strengths or weaknesses that may not be as evident in an isolated assignment. The process encourages productive peer feedback and critical thinking 2.

Cost Yes Free.
Bandwidth Yes Low demand on internet connections.
Canvas Integration Yes Works in coordination with Canvas.
Privacy Yes ComPAIR is developed and maintained at UBC.
Similar UBC-Supported Tools Y CLAS and peerScholar are also centrally supported for student peer assessment.

What can I use it for?

You can use ComPAIR to facilitate student peer assessment (aka peer review) assignments:

  • Managing assignment collection of work done by individuals or in groups, and automating the anonymized distribution of this work to peers
  • Seeing how students compare and offer feedback on pairs of their peers’ work
  • Giving individual feedback to each student or to the class as a whole

How are other faculty using ComPAIR?

Tiffany Potter uses ComPAIR to promote critical thinking skills in English

Nearly half of my students listed ComPAIR as the most useful classroom assignment on the year-end course evaluation: they enjoyed the comparison aspect, and they could readily understand how the tool and the assignment were helping them to engage course content and the critical processes behind their assignments and assessment. Read More »


James Charbonneau uses ComPAIR to explore grey areas in Physics

Students can read six assignments and get exposure to many viewpoints, while still exercising their peer evaluation skills. The direct comparisons themselves also allow students to more acutely see what separates good work from better work. It’s an invaluable tool for getting students to explore the grey areas in science. Read More »


What do I need to use ComPAIR?

A supported web browser

ComPAIR runs in your web browser and supports using Chrome, Edge, Firefox, or Safari.

Tips

  • You and your students can access ComPAIR on a mobile device from a web browser; there is no separate app you have to download. However, we recommend students use a larger screen when comparing, to better view the side-by-side answer pairs.

How can I plan my course design and delivery to use ComPAIR?

It’s best to outline your assessment approach from a pedagogical perspective before you get started. This includes determining a) your plan for using ComPAIR and b) how assessments will relate to grades.

Click any bar below to explore considerations for ComPAIR.

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Plan your student peer assessments

As with any learning activity, how these assignments are introduced, designed, and integrated in the course impacts the student experience with ComPAIR. Here are some recommendations to consider.

  • Clearly explain the learning objective(s): Students who understand what underlying skills they are practicing in the application feel they learn more from the assignments. It is important to explain the end goal of using ComPAIR—how comparing will concretely help learning—rather than only explain the process. As a starting point, download the modifiable template for introducing ComPAIR to students that UBC instructors have created.
  • Build on ComPAIR assignments: Assignments in ComPAIR are more beneficial to students when presented as part of a larger process. It is better to use ComPAIR for peer review in the context of a bigger course goal (e.g., prep for writing a later term paper, evaluation of an early project draft), rather than for standalone assignments or “busy work”.
  • Provide a low-stakes training round: Students feel more confident when they can practice comparing answers in a low-stakes training round, prior to any graded ComPAIR assignments. These practice rounds are especially useful when a review of how to conduct comparisons is included afterwards.
  • Use multiple, detailed criteria for comparisons: When given more guidance, students say they learn more from comparing, especially when assignments are more complex. Explaining precisely what to look for during comparisons—with multiple descriptive criteria in the application and/or detailed external rubrics that are provided and explained ahead of time—may result in stronger learning and possibly richer feedback.
  • Require 3+ comparisons per assignment: Students uncertain about giving peer feedback report stronger confidence in this skill after practicing with more answer pairs. A minimum of three comparisons per student (i.e., each student reviews six peer works) is suggested to give students repeated practice to learn from.
  • Assess the quality of peer feedback: Adding weight to the peer feedback students write helps instructors increase the quality of feedback given. Assigning marks creates additional accountability for students and increases their commitment to the process.

Develop your student peer assessment criteria

In ComPAIR, one or more custom criteria can be used to guide students' comparison of the answer pairs. Each criterion must pose a question answered by choosing between the answers (e.g., Which is better?).

To develop criteria, start with the course learning outcomes and think about how seeing other work will help students get there—what can students learn from each other? Keep in mind how experienced students in the course will be, and use criteria at a complexity that the majority will be able to understand. UBC instructors generally stick with between 1-6 total criteria, and some advise using an odd number to discourage students from selecting a “tie” between answers.

Consider also if the goal is more summative (critically looking at final work) or formative (constructively looking at drafted work). Harder, more complex, and longer criteria may be better for summative uses. Easier, more straightforward, and shorter criteria may be better for formative uses.

Decide on the timing of your assignment phases

You will need to decide how many ComPAIR assignments you will give in the course as well as the timing for each phase of the assignment: answering, comparing, and (optionally) self-evaluating. By default, comparing begins after answering ends, though these may be designed to overlap. However, keeping the phases separate allows students to complete their evaluations smoothly (without the delays that can happen if answering and comparing overlap and there aren't enough answers available for students to compare).

ComPAIR assignments can be given during and after group projects as well. When you use the group assignment feature, only one answer will be required from each group (which any member can submit), but each group member must complete the required comparisons and self-evaluation (if enabled) individually.

Choose how outcomes will influence grades

If ComPAIR assignments will influence grades, you should communicate to students from the beginning how exactly the assessment marks will be counted, so students are not caught off-guard.

Often, instructors grade students with a combination of two aspects:

  • Their participation in the process (i.e., answering, comparing, and/or self-evaluating). When creating your ComPAIR assignment, you will be able to assign the weight given for completing each phase of the assignment.
  • The quality of the work students do through ComPAIR, which may mean any of the following: reviewing the answers students initially submit, seeing how peer feedback informs a revised or later work they submit, or looking at the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of their peer feedback (which has the added benefit of increasing students’ sense of accountability in providing quality constructive criticism).

A note on ComPAIR's rankings

ComPAIR’s main pedagogical focus is to help students effectively review peer work and write insightful feedback using the power of comparison. However, some instructors have considered using ComPAIR’s optional scoring/ranking of answers for grading as well, primarily by chunking the answers into rough top, middle, and bottom groups and assigning a grade to each.

Conduct your own validation, if you intend to factor ComPAIR’s outcomes into the marks you assign. Internal research so far indicates that ComPAIR’s scoring may not reliably map to traditional expert grading, as it ultimately relies on the skills and training of novices (students) to provide accurate, well-informed rankings of their peers’ answers.

How do I use ComPAIR?

To use ComPAIR, you will first set up a course and create an assignment. Students will then be able to answer, compare peer answers, and comment on what they review.

Click any bar below for instructions and tips for using ComPAIR.

Set up a ComPAIR course

The easiest way to get started with ComPAIR is in Canvas. Through Canvas, you can set up a ComPAIR course, and students will be added to it once they click the ComPAIR link in Canvas. The instructions differ depending on whether you want to sync the ComPAIR participation grades with the Canvas Gradebook or not.

  1. Log in to your Canvas course, and click Assignments in the Course Navigation.
  2. Click +Assignment in the upper right side of the screen.
  3. Enter the assignment name as "ComPAIR Link" to prevent confusing this with other assignments.
  4. Scroll down to submission type and select External Tool from the drop-down menu.
  5. Even if you know the URL, click Find (entering the URL directly will not sync properly with Canvas).
  6. From the list, pick ComPAIR and click Select.
  7. Check Load This Tool In A New Tab.
  8. Save the assignment.
    • Don't publish this assignment, if you want to sync grades between ComPAIR and Canvas. Instead, set up syncing for individual assignments using instructions in the accordion section farther below.
  9. You will be redirected to the assignment page you just saved. Click Load ComPAIR Link in a new window to create your ComPAIR course.
    • If it's your first time using ComPAIR, you will be prompted to create an account first.
  10. Follow the steps on screen to create or link your course in ComPAIR.
    • If it's your first time using ComPAIR or you would like to create a new ComPAIR course, fill out the course details (name, year, semester) and schedule. Then click Save.
    • If you have used ComPAIR before and would like to use an existing ComPAIR course, click Use This or Duplicate This next to the relevant course.
  11. Continue with the steps on this page to set up your ComPAIR assignment and sync each assignment's grades with Canvas.
  1. Log in to your Canvas course, and click Settings in the Course Navigation.
  2. Click the Navigation tab.
  3. Find the ComPAIR menu item, click the options menu (the 3 vertical dots), and choose Enable.
  4. The ComPAIR menu item will now be available in the Course Navigation for you and your students. Click ComPAIR in the Course Navigation to create or link your ComPAIR course.
    • If it's your first time using ComPAIR, you will be prompted to create an account first.
  5. Follow the steps on screen to create or link your course in ComPAIR.
    • If it's your first time using ComPAIR or you would like to create a new ComPAIR course, fill out the course details (name, year, semester) and schedule. Then click Save.
    • If you have used ComPAIR before and would like to use an existing ComPAIR course, click Use This or Duplicate This next to the relevant course.
  6. Inform your students that they must follow the ComPAIR link from your Canvas course to enrol in your ComPAIR course. Students cannot log in to your ComPAIR course by going to the ComPAIR application first; this will not correctly enrol them in your ComPAIR course.
  7. Continue with the steps on this page to set up your ComPAIR assignment.

Tips

  • If you use grade syncing, you must set up individual ComPAIR assignments in Canvas that students will click to sync their grades, using the steps in the accordion below. Not using grade syncing means students must follow a ComPAIR link from your Canvas course only once: to initially enrol in your ComPAIR course.
  • Skipping the setup for grade syncing does not affect your ability to manually enter grades in Canvas for ComPAIR assignments. You can still enter these grades yourself in the Canvas Gradebook.
  • If you do not want to use Canvas to set up ComPAIR, you may log in directly at compair.elearning.ubc.ca. From there, you can add a course and add students to it. Contact us in the LT Hub for help setting this up.

Understand the ComPAIR workflow

Using ComPAIR for peer review is a multi-stage process.

  1. You create an assignment: You need to configure five options (the assignment details, timing of phases, comparison criteria, number of comparisons, and participation grade) for each assignment, a process that can be completed in under ten minutes.
  2. Students answer the assignment: Students answer using a rich text editor, a file attachment, or both. For a group assignment, only one student from each group needs to answer.
  3. Students compare and comment on pairs of peer answers: Students select a preferred answer from the pair for each criterion you set (e.g., "Which is better?), then write feedback to the author of each answer, following instructions that you can customize. This phase is done individually, whether or not it is a group assignment.
  4. Students complete a self-evaluation (optional): If you enable self-evaluation, students reflect and comment on their own answer at the end of the process, following instructions that you can customize. This phase is done individually, whether or not it is a group assignment.
  5. Everyone views results: Once the phases of a peer review assignment are complete, students access the peer feedback given to their (or their group’s) answer, as well as all answers submitted by peers. You and your teaching team can read and comment privately or publicly on student answers, access a participation table to view activity and participation grades, mark "top" answers, and view each student’s comparison choices, peer feedback, and self-evaluation.

To find out more about each step, visit the ComPAIR support site's workflow page.

Create an assignment in your ComPAIR course

  1. Log in to ComPAIR, and click your course name. If you don't have a course, you can follow the earlier steps to set one up.
  2. Click Add Assignment, which will take you to a page for filling in information about the assignment:
    • Under "Assignment Details", set the short name of the assignment, enable/disable self-evaluation and group functionality, and add any assignment instructions.
    • Under "Schedule", set the timelines for when students can answer, compare answers and (optionally) evaluate their own answer.
    • Under "Prompts", set the criteria that students will use to compare the answer pairs. One or more criteria can be used and each must pose a question answered by choosing between the answers. Instructions for peer feedback and self-evaluation can also be customized.
    • Under "Comparison Settings", set the number of comparisons required from each student and how the pairs will be selected by the application—at random or adaptively based on how students have ranked answers so far. You can also add a practice answer pair for students to start with and enable replies.
    • Under "Participation Grade", set the weight given for completing each part of the assignment, which is used in calculating a total participation grade.
  3. Save the assignment.

Tips

  • The number of comparisons you require determines the amount of feedback students will give and receive. For example, with the default of three comparisons required for an assignment, students will need to review six peer answers and will receive roughly six peer feedback comments on their answer.
  • When assignments are set up to select answer pairs adaptively, ComPAIR tracks a score for each answer that is used to match up the pairs. You can read more about how ComPAIR's scoring works on the ComPAIR support site.
  • An advantage of pairing answers adaptively is it can create more challenging comparisons, since answers are selected for the comparison pairs based on the proximity of their scores, meaning the pairs theoretically become closer in quality over time. However, this effect is more pronounced for students who complete comparisons later; students in the beginning will see essentially random pairings.

Set up grade syncing with Canvas for a ComPAIR assignment

Once you have a ComPAIR course and assignment, you can set up grade syncing with Canvas.

To sync properly, you will need to set up individual links in Canvas to each ComPAIR assignment. Each student must click the link of each Canvas assignment to establish a connection between their Canvas Gradebook entries and their work in ComPAIR.

  1. To create an assignment link in Canvas, first copy the necessary information from ComPAIR:
    • Log in to ComPAIR, and click your course title.
    • Scroll to the ComPAIR assignment you want to sync grades from and click Edit underneath the assignment title.
    • Click Copy? at the top right of the edit assignment page. This will copy the information you need to enter in Canvas.
  2. Log in to your Canvas course, and click Assignments in the Course Navigation.
  3. Click +Assignment in the upper right side of the screen.
  4. Enter the assignment name as you want students to see it.
  5. Scroll down to submission type and select External Tool from the drop-down menu.
  6. Even if you know the URL, click Find (entering the URL directly will not sync properly with Canvas).
  7. From the list, pick ComPAIR and click Select.
  8. At the end of the "External Tool URL" field, type a question mark (?), then paste the value you copied from ComPAIR.
    • The "External Tool URL" will ultimately look something like this:
      compair.elearning.ubc.ca/api/lti/auth?assignment=*******
  9. Check Load This Tool In A New Tab. This allows grades to properly sync with Canvas.
  10. Save & Publish the assignment (students can only access published assignments).
  11. Make sure to inform your students that they have to click each ComPAIR assignment link in Canvas for syncing to work, otherwise they won't receive the grades they expect.

Tips

  • The grade passed from ComPAIR to Canvas with this setup is for participation points only. Even if you have enabled ComPAIR to track scores by using adaptive pairing in the assignment setup, the grade does not take this into account.
  • If you don't want participation grades to sync from ComPAIR to Canvas, these steps are not required. If you plan to manually enter ComPAIR grades in Canvas, you can do so without following these instructions and without requiring students to click an assignment link.
  • If you will be including assignment links, it's best to remove all other links to ComPAIR from your Canvas course, so that students don't accidentally click the wrong link (e.g., from the Course Navigation).

Where can I get more support with ComPAIR?

Technical support

If you have trouble with ComPAIR:


Pedagogical support

Learn more


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  1. Bransford, J. D., & Schwartz, D. L. (1999). Chapter 3: Rethinking transfer: A simple proposal with multiple implications. Review of research in education, 24(1), 61-100.
  2. Potter, T., Englund, L., Charbonneau, J., MacLean, M. T., Newell, J., & Roll, I. (2017). ComPAIR: A new online tool using adaptive comparative judgement to support learning with peer feedback. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 5(2), 89-113.