Peer-Correction at 42
What exactly is peer-correction? Peer-correction is a pedagogical technique where students correct each other. At 42 there are no teachers, classes, courses or grades. Therefore, peer-correction is an essential part of our peer-learning curriculum. At 42, students are the ones in charge of their own success and that of their classmates. Giving corrections is an important part of the process when it comes to working on projects. Students must rely on the feedback that they receive about their work in order to progress. 42 students adapt and progress rapidly by giving and receiving information and by alternating between training and learning.
We believe that fostering students’ ability to critically reason, problem solve, and create is not only more effective for learning but also more fun. In the end, this creates a community of lifelong learners. In addition, it contributes to helping students evolve into well-rounded software engineers. Also, communication skills are strengthened when students have to go through a rigorous review process. In this process, they learn both how to be critical and how to defend. Most importantly, they learn to communicate throughout the entire process. This helps them learn how to avoid conflict and conduct themselves professionally.
Expanding on the Peer-Correction Process
Learning does not stop once a project is turned in, it continues during its correction. Students correct projects that their classmates have produced. This may sound like a scary process but it isn’t because every corrector has gone through the correction process before. Also, don’t forget that once you pass a project you will be the corrector someday, so eventually you will experience both roles. And no matter what level you get to, in the real working world, your projects will continually be reviewed by your peers. This is a great equalizer because the power dynamics between students are not as unequal as those between a tenured professor and a student. The community at 42 wants to see everyone do well and grow. So your peers are here to help, not hinder, your success.
It’s how you grow and how you learn
Meo, a 42 student and junior software developer at 42, told us what the experience is like, “Students first get to experience corrections during the piscine. In the piscine, you get corrected on the very first day. It is normal to feel scared unless you have experienced peer corrections before. Later on, you become more comfortable with the process, but you don’t want to get too comfortable. You need to stay rigorous because going through this process, and taking it seriously, is how you grow, how you learn, and how you know you are learning.”
Every correction at 42 is different, and there is no model to which students need to strictly adhere. In order to grade a project, the correctors base their decisions on the original instructions for the assignment and the grading scale which accompanies the project. The process is designed to identify errors and missing features, and in some cases, the 42 correction system tells correctors to stop the correction after detecting the first careless mistake. There is an open exchange of communication between the corrector and the corrected which allows the corrected to receive important advice that will help them to progress. The student’s final grade reflects the average of all the corrections in order to standardize the results.
Learning How to Give Constructive Feedback and Defend Your Work
Getting corrected by peers helps students learn how to explain their work to others. It also teaches them that they must follow certain procedures in their work. Correcting your peers helps you learn how to give constructive feedback in a clear manner that will help the corrected improve their code. Michael, a 42 student and volunteer on the academic team, explained, “When I do corrections I check for basic requirements, author requirements, and if they followed the norm. I will actually run their program to see if it works, and make them explain it.” 42 student Logan shared how going through the process helps you navigate how to correct. He elaborated, “If I’ve done a project, I know which parts are difficult. So I jump into that part and focus on that in addition to the standard stuff.”
Peer Corrections Prepare You for the Workplace
Learning how to give and receive criticism is something that happens in the workplace. Meo shared how the benefits extend after you leave 42, “In industry, you have code reviews. So peer-corrections emulate a true work environment. Your colleagues will give you a code review, and you have to defend why you did what you did.” Logan agrees, “Code reviews are part of the job requirements for a software engineer and it is just something you do a lot on the job.”
The correctors need to respond impartially and take in and understand the project that is presented to them in a short amount of time. Logan elaborates, “The process is supposed to be objective, as objective as it can be. When it comes to complex projects it is up to the corrected to defend their project.” Michael shares, “This is an opportunity for those being corrected to defend their work and show what they have done. People who struggle to defend are more problematic. It’s similar to what someone has to do during a dissertation defense. You need to explain your project and be ready to answer a lot of questions.” If you’re considering an education or program because you want to be a software engineer, you should consider whether a program features peer-correcting since it’s a key element of the workplace.
Benefits of Peer-Correction for Both the Corrector and the Corrected
We spoke with 42’s Chief Academic Officer, Gaetan Juvin, who sees the reciprocal relationship in peer-correcting. He noted, “Peer correction is a way for you to evaluate your project on more than one occasion. The first part is learning from what the corrected have done. The corrector will know 80% of what you have done and what is working. But then you notice that the person is using a different or new algorithm. In the end, the corrector will learn more too. The second thing is, the corrector may need to tell the corrected that their new algorithm is crap, and the corrected will need to defend their work.
The pedagogy we have is important because this process also helps students to develop soft skills. It helps you learn how to build an argument. It is the best way to learn, in both ways, communication and defense. A student who has been through the process before is more rigorous than a teacher who hasn’t gone through a review in a long time, because they may not remember what it is like. In code, it is better to fail now as a student than fail on a project at your future job where the stakes are higher. There are 3 things that make peer correction so valuable. First, you learn from both sides. Second, you learn soft skills. And last, the process is more rigorous than the standard grading system.”
Peer-Correction and Gamification
Peer-correcting ties in with the gamification component of the 42 curricula. Meo explained, “The system is gamified. In order to get your project corrected, you have to grade other people’s projects. Basically, you have to spend points to earn points.” Progress is accounted for using experience points. These experience points are inspired by video games. Students develop their competencies through each of the proposed projects and receive experience in exchange for this. 42 students have to go through the peer-correcting process as the corrector and the corrected in order to unlock the next “level.”
Also, students at 42 have the ability to see what level their peers are at. Along with being able to see other students’ code, it can be a motivating factor for some students. Meo shared, “It is unique to the 42 pedagogy. In a traditional university setting, you may not get the opportunity to see other students’ code. Here, we are used to seeing other people’s code. We use GitHub a lot. With corrections, you get access to other people’s repository. You have all their files, all their program files, then you open them up and see what they’ve created.” Learning by doing, by observing, by taking in input from others and trying to improve based on feedback about their projects helps students to level up. Most importantly, it prepares them for their future careers in the tech industry.
Learning Soft Skills Through Corrections
If you want a future in tech, don’t underestimate the power of learning soft skills. According to Harvard, “Even in the most technical fields today, soft skills are in high demand. In fact, a Harris poll of hiring managers revealed that 77 percent of employers value soft skills as much as hard skills. Burning Glass Technologies recently analyzed over 25 million online job listings. Among IT listings, one in four of the most sought-after skills were soft skills.”
As shared by Gaetan, the peer-correcting process helps to develop soft skills. These skills include communicating constructive feedback and having the ability to present your thoughts, ideas, and actions in a way that others can understand. Defending one’s work, or critiquing the work of others, is an art in itself. With peer-corrections, 42 students learn how to do so in a tactful and productive manner. This will help them to later navigate complex relationships in the workplace.
When a student prepares a project for review, there is a lot of planning, time management, attention to detail and quality assurance that goes in. Hard skills are definitely refined in the peer-review process. There is no better way to know that your code works and has the correct technical specs. At the end of the day, peer-correcting prepares students for the work environment, develops analytical skills, and serves as motivation in learning.