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Facilitating Online Peer Review

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Today’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue‌, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.

 

The pandemic has thrown instructors into foreign teaching territory, prompting many to question how to employ familiar pedagogical practices in an online environment. 

While preparing to teach online for the first time last year, I had many questions about peer review: how do I foster productive online peer review sessions? How do I teach students how to give each other productive feedback? How do I support them in taking up peer feedback and using it to revise their writing? I also had questions about logistics: which platform or program would be most conducive for peer review? What is the best way for students to “exchange” papers? What role should I play during peer review? In efforts to answer these questions, I spent a lot of time reading and researching about effective online teaching practices and different approaches to peer review. I found CCCC’s “A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction,” a particularly helpful list of guiding principles for online writing pedagogy. The fourth principle reads: “appropriate onsite composition theories, pedagogies, and strategies should be migrated and adapted to the online instructional environment.” While this principle isn’t pedagogically earth-shattering, it was a helpful reminder that I didn’t have to abandon my familiar face-to-face pedagogical practices. I simply had to reimagine them.

 

After some thinking and experimenting with peer review in classes early on in the semester, I recognized that I could migrate and adapt my familiar scaffolded pedagogical approach for teaching to an online environment and rework some peer review activities that were proven to be effective in my face-to-face classes. Below I offer a five-step online peer review approach with resources and pedagogical practices instructors might use for each step.

 

Step #1: Teach students what peer review is, what it does, how to do it, and why it’s valuable.

Research as well as anecdotal pedagogical evidence tells us that students need direct instruction in learning what peer review is and how to do it. Direct instruction is needed to avoid unproductive comments (“I like this”) or comments that solely focus on grammar (“you need a comma here”). Some resources that work well for initiating conversation about peer review are:

After students engage with one of these resources, it is helpful to facilitate a discussion—either on Zoom or a discussion board—to review video content and to further provide students with ways to provide productive comments on particular assignments.

 

Step #2: Teach students what constitutes “good” writing for any given assignment.

Every assignment calls for a different genre of writing, and every genre within every writing situation invites particular rhetorical moves, specific format, and particular content. It is our job as instructors to help students understand the criteria needed to successfully communicate in writing in each assignment. Just like a face-to-face classroom, we can do this in a number of ways in an online environment:

  • Make assignments detailed and transparent
  • Provide specific criteria for each writing assignment and descriptions of what makes particular criteria successful, either in a rubric or detailed guidelines
  • Provide students with examples of the kind of writing they are being asked to do
  • Determine the kind of peer review activity that would make the most sense in your context to guide students in identifying signs of success in writing

 

Step #3: Choose an online platform to facilitate peer review based on the advantages and drawbacks of the platform.

There are a plethora of online platforms for peer review such as Canvas, Blackboard, Google, Flipgrid, Zoom, Voicethread, and Macmillan’s very own Achieve Writing Tools. Make a list of the advantages and drawbacks of each program to determine the most appropriate platform for your context. For example, Achieve Writing Tools has several advantages. The program enables instructors to assign peer review partners/groups. They are also able to moderate the peer review process through engagement with a summary report that identifies students’ peer review comments. Instructors can comment directly on students’ peer review responses in efforts to help them become stronger reviewers and in turn writers.

 

Step #4: Choose a peer review activity that best suits the needs of the assignment and your students. Instructors may consider a structured approach, like a list in which peer reviewers respond, or a flexible approach, like an invitation for peer reviewers to identify three strengths and weaknesses of a paper. 

 

Step #5: Make students accountable for providing and using peer feedback for revisions. Instructors may consider assigning a grade weight to the peer review responses and/or assigning a revision plan that asks students to identify what and how they will take up peer feedback to revise their writing. A revision plan activates students’ metacognitive awareness, enabling them to have a stronger understanding of the value of the writing process as well as their own writing habits and practices.

 

When facilitating online peer review, I’ve found it helpful to ask students to report back on their experience with the scaffolded approach and the activity chosen for each assignment. Their responses, especially in an asynchronous class, have been invaluable in my quest to dwell more comfortably in the foreign world of online instruction.