I’ve been thinking about peer review lately. Conversations I’ve had with fellow teachers, as well as a workshop I’m preparing for, have got me musing on—not the effectiveness of peer review, per se—but how I can make peer review most effective for most of my students. I’ve also been thinking about the seeming dichotomy between digital and face-to-face environments. Is one really any better than the other? I mean, I know there are pros and cons to both. But I’ve been wondering: just how different is a peer review activity done in class from one conducted via Blackboard and email?
For one thing, a way to make peer review most effective is to keep doing it and keep it collaborative. In her fascinating study, “Peer interaction and critical thinking: Face-to-face or online discussion?” Jane Guiller notes that “Collaborative peer learning promotes greater conceptual development and results in greater enjoyment of the learning task” (1). While that sounds great, I still wondered about what happens to collaboration when it moves to a digital environment. Guiller’s study measured face-to-face discussion versus online discussion, and found that when student collaborations were coded, face-to-face discourse contained a higher level of “point of view” statements, or statements that give an opinion, or take a stance on an issue. In online discourse, there was a higher level of “justification with evidence” statements, or those that cited formal evidence based on research. In other words, there was a “higher degree of interaction,” in face-to-face discourse, and “more of a reflective monologue,” in online discourse between the students in the study (5). In the end, Guiller concludes that both online and face-to-face discourses are beneficial to students, though in different ways (5).
Armed with this insight, I decided to play around with my peer-review assignments, integrating digital aspects to an activity I normally plan for the classroom, turning a typically face-to-face, partnered and/or group activity into a digitally partnered one.
For peer review for Project 2, I assigned what I called “Digital Reader Review Day.” I posted a word document on Blackboard with questions for both the Writer of the essay, and the Reader of the essay to answer. There was also a chance for the Writer to respond to his/her Reader’s comments. My reasoning was, if I can “outsource” peer review to a digital, outside-of-class activity, then that would free up class time for other things. I had worries and hopes about this, and they fell into the following categories:
Digital Reader Review Day went off without a hitch, and maybe only a hiccup or two. I asked students for their feedback during the following class period, and was fascinated by the results. Against my assumptions, not every student loved this method of peer review. In fact, in all three of my sections, it was pretty much an even split between students. Here are some of the things my students said:
I can already see ways that I can re-work digital peer review so that it addresses some of the negative experiences my students had. Structuring it so that it falls earlier in the unit, for instance. One particularly interesting piece of feedback I received was, “We think it would be cool to do digital reader review, and then come to class and talk about it.” This struck me as both right in line with Guiller’s findings, and smart of my students to suggest. It was almost like they intuited the multifaceted benefits of both face-to-face and online interaction. That is one way I will definitely mix it up next time.
Nicole Guinot Varty received her MA in Written Communication and the Teaching of Writing from Eastern Michigan University in 2009. She joined the department as a lecturer in 2011 and is currently teaching ENG 1020.