Case Studies

What is PeerWise

PeerWise is an online repository of multiple-choice questions that are created, answered, rated and discussed by students. It has a built in set of badging tools and leaderboards to encourage participation. Typically, at the beginning of a term, a course using PeerWise begins with an empty repository. This grows gradually as the course progresses and students author and contribute relevant questions. All activity remains anonymous to students. Staff are able to view the identity of question and comment authors and have the ability to delete inappropriate questions, though in practice, such moderation is rarely necessary and PeerWise is often used with little staff involvement.

PeerWise is used in a wide range of subjects, including Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Physics, Population Health, Pharmacology and Medicine.


PeerWise is free to use.


It can be accessed from any browser. It does not need any special software installed on your computer.

Accessing it

If you go to the standard opening page: you are prompted to select your institution (in our case Durham University (UK)
 Tip: skip this first step by linking to a special Durham front page:
Note PeerWise uses it’s own usernames and passwords, it is not connected to Active Directory at Durham so you can’t use your normal CIS username and password to log in. Lecturers will have to set up accounts for their students – luckily this is very easy – see Setting up your PeerWise Course and Enrolling Students.

Benefits to Students

According to their website, PeerWise provides a number of learning opportunities to students:

  1. Designing questions: Generating a question requires students to think carefully about the topics of the course and how they relate to the learning outcomes. Writing questions focuses attention on the learning outcomes and makes teaching and learning goals more apparent to students.
  2. Choosing distractors: The act of creating plausible distracters (multiple-choice alternatives) requires students to consider misconceptions, ambiguity and possible interpretations of concepts.
  3. Writing explanations: Explanations require students to express their understanding of a topic with as much clarity as possible. This acts to develop their written communication skills and deepen their understanding.
  4. Answering questions: Answering questions in a drill and practice fashion reinforces learning, and incorporates elements of self-assessment. Students are shown how others have answered the same questions, allowing them to gauge how well they are coping in the course.
  5. Evaluating quality: Evaluating existing questions incorporates higher-order cognitive skills, requiring a student to consider not only the content, but what makes a particular question more effective than other questions.

Benefits to Staff

Similarly their website provides a number of benefits to staff:

  1. Early feedback: Lecturers can see how students are answering individual questions in real-time, and can identify and address common misunderstandings in a timely fashion. Analysing student comments can reveal further insight into the student perception of topics within the course.
  2. Large test banks: The development of MCQ test banks is a very time consuming activity, and placing this in the hands of the students is a fast, low cost way for staff to have access to a large body of MCQ test items designed specifically to test the course content.
  3. Student confidence: By evaluating the topic areas that students have created questions for, lecturers can get a sense of which topics students are more confident with and which topics students are not engaged with.
  4. Large classes: PeerWise performs well in large classes. The number of high-quality questions is greater and students therefore have access to a higher number of effective questions.


We have had very positive reports from staff and students who have used PeerWise at Durham. This tool is recommended by many colleagues.

At present we have to add the following caveat – please ensure you understand the advice before using PeerWise in your teaching.

PeerWise appears to be a very well thought out and successful service, but if you plan to use it you need to understand the following:

  1. Although very unlikely it is possible that the service could cease (or be forcefully closed) without warning. In such a situation it is likely that all your data and that of your students would be lost. As such you should be careful to take regular copies of content posted to PeerWise and we do not consider it suitable for summative work – i.e. contributing towards a student’s degree mark.
  2. If you choose to use this service then you need to satisfy yourself that the support available from PeerWise is sufficient for your needs. Staff from the University of Durham have no contractual arrangements with the company and (rightly) no back-end/administrator access.
  3. You should not store personal data about individuals on this service.

Things to Watch

All data submitted to PeerWise is stored in New Zealand. As such it lies outside the EU. We have discussed this service with colleagues from the University’s Legal Services. They have noted that there are no Terms and Conditions available. We are currently working with the vendor on this.


More details and online help guides are available from the PeerWise website:
There is also a useful user community site:


Much of the information used to create this entry is drawn from the PeerWise website: supplemented with information from Dr Jacquie Robson’s presentation at the Proven Solutions workshop.

REVIEW DATE: September 2016