Digital Peer Review

Peer review is a common activity in writing classes, and it is increasingly popular in large-lecture courses as a way to have students do more writing without the teacher having to do all of the grading. Studies report that peer review in writing courses may be more effective online than in class because it gives students more time to read carefully and compose thoughtful comments to their peers.

Workshop Activity

Step One. Articulate the goals of the peer review activity (including when the activity happens within the course sequence, as well as whether or not it’s graded and what kind of feedback/participation students should expect from the instructor).

Step Two. Select appropriate tools for commenting and the worksheet/rubric, and  write instructions for how students are to engage with those tools. I also suggest creating an ‘introducing peer review’ module so students know what peer review is and how they’re meant to go about it. 

Below, you’ll find a list of possible tools to facilitate digital peer review:

    • MS Word. The most common tool for peer review is Microsoft Word–students can use the Comments tool (part of the Track Changes features) to leave feedback on their classmates’ drafts. I recommend telling students to only leave comments and not actually use Track Changes as the Track Changes too often leads to editing rather than feedback on content.
    • Peer Review Worksheets. To guide students’ peer review, I recommend asking them to fill out a peer review worksheet in addition to leaving comments on the draft. I use Doug Hesse’s five categories for grading writing as the categories in my peer review worksheets.
    • Rubrics. Depending on your LMS, rubrics can be a nice alternative to peer review worksheets. I have been very impressed with the rubrics in Canvas.
    • BounceApp. My students do not submit their work in Word documents; instead, they post their essays to WordPress sites (this is all leading toward a final electronic portfolio). To allow them (and me) to leave comments on their websites, we use BounceApp, a lightweight application that takes a screenshot of the website and allows the reader to leave comments.
    • Crocodoc. This annotation tool is another alternative to MS Word and supports multiple file types.

Step Three. Log on to your institution’s learning management system and determine how you will design the workshop environment. You may need to write additional instructions for how the students will access the activity.

Below, you’ll find two examples of how to design the workshop:

    • Discussion Forums. You can use tools for public posting (like asynchronous discussion forums) to set up the peer review workshop within your learning management system. I create one forum for each peer review group and have them submit their feedback as attachments to forum posts. This strategy has the added bonus of providing a space for questions and comments between group members.
    • LMS. Some learning management systems, like Canvas, have built-in peer review features.

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