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April 22, 2013

MIL Research Project: Peer Review & Asynchronous Discussion

The following post is part of my MIL research project and is the first of four posts that describe the asynchronous discussion assignments I used in the study: peer review/small group discussion, medium group discussion with very directive  guidelines, social bookmarking with Diigo discussions, and multimedia discussion forums. 

peerreviewMost people don’t think of peer reviews of student essays as discussion, and if you stop at the step where students provide feedback to each other on the written work, then yes, there’s not much discussion going on there. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn peer review into a meaningful asynchronous discussion activity. Here’s how I run peer reviews in my ENG102 class. First I create groups of 3-4 students. Then I set up the questions that I want for students to answer during the peer review process. Giving students specific things to comment on helps them stay focused and makes it easier for them to provide meaningful feedback. The questions usually stem from the rubric that was provided to students during the writing process. My thought is that if students composed their essays under certain guidelines, providing feedback based on those guidelines could be helpful. So for example, the rubric points out that 10 points are awarded for a strong thesis statement that either takes a position or proposes a solution to a problem. During the peer review process, I ask students to review the essays of the students in their group and answer the provided questions. One question instructs students to highlight what they think is the thesis, identify it as either a position or proposal statement, and then weigh in on whether the thesis is a strong thesis or not. During the writing phase, students are tasked with writing a strong thesis, so this feedback they receive from peers is valuable.

Once each student has participated in this phase of the peer review, they are instructed to move over to Piazza for a small group discussion on the peer review process. This discussion is open ended with no specific guidelines about what needs to take place. The instructions simply ask students to continue the discussion from the peer review by providing further commentary on the overall work that each student did for the essay assignment. Comments in this phase of the asynchronous discussion activity are the ones I found most enlightening. Many students took this time to thank their group mates for the valuable feedback they provided in the peer review phase. They express their pleasure in participating in such activity, and showed enthusiasm for helping each other. One group was so exciting to start the discussion phase that they started their own group before the instructor had a chance to set it up.

An additional benefit to a discussion like this is the opportunity to build community among students. If students feel like there are others who are willing to read their paper and provide valuable feedback, they often feel obligated to do the same – provide valuable feedback back. But they also grow to like the people in their group forming a bond that carries over to other activities in the class. I often find groups start to ask questions of each other instead of asking the instructor. This is facilitated if you have a good tool to do so, which is why I adopted Piazza to help with Q&A and discussions in my class. Students don’t feel like they are alone in this process after they’ve completed the first peer review/discussion assignment.

Related Posts: MIL Research Project: Medium Group Discussions – Prompt and Group Size Matters

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