TEACHING STUDENTS TO GIVE AND TO RECEIVE: IMPROVING DISCIPLINARY WRITING THROUGH PEER REVIEW
Old Dominion University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Conference name: 10th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 7-9 March, 2016
Location: Valencia, Spain
Abstract:The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools requires institutions seeking reaffirmation of accreditation to develop a Quality Enhancement Plan addressing an issue related to student learning. The authors’ institution elected to address disciplinary writing. This paper describes the multi-disciplinary collaboration of six faculty members who implemented peer review in order to improve student writing. Although two of the participants had significant experience with peer review, the intention was for the process to be iterative with the faculty learning from and with one another as they designed and later revised writing prompts, rubrics, and peer review protocols. This paper describes the first semester of the project. Although it includes some faculty reflections, it primarily focuses on the effects of peer reviews on students.
Each faculty member developed their own assignments and peer review process, but followed the same general guidelines. Students taking courses in Biology, Education, Engineering, and English submitted drafts to peers who wrote comments and used a rubric to provide formative feedback. The instructors used a variety of tools to support peer review including Google Docs, Blackboard, and Expertiza, a peer-review system developed at NC State. Students were surveyed after each round of peer review to assess their satisfaction. Faculty graded student submissions before and after the reviews using a common interdisciplinary writing rubric to judge the quality of student writing and to assess the extent to which students revised their writing after participating in peer reviews.
The results varied considerably between the classes suggesting the importance of the instructor, assignment, and peer review process. Students in courses where the instructor emphasized the benefits of peer reviewing reported more favorable attitudes in the surveys but did not necessarily make more revisions. Students required to reflect on the reviews they received were more likely to improve their work than students who were not required to reflect. These were also common themes across courses. Many students appreciated the anonymity provided by computer-supported peer reviews, but they had little tolerance for technology that was not intuitive or reliable. In general students appreciated receiving feedback from their peers, especially comments that were specific and pointed out areas for improvement. They were less receptive to being graded by peers, especially when low marks were not explained. Students also liked seeing other students’ work – this helped them gauge their performance, but many felt uncomfortable giving critical feedback and expressed concern about their lack of expertise.
In addition to helping instructors understand student responses to peer review — attitudes and actions (revisions) — the project also helped instructors identify weaknesses in student writing. They were able to connect these to unclear or insufficient directions in their assignment prompts or underdeveloped student skills. They subsequently developed instructional activities tied to the deficiencies. The project findings contribute to the understanding of peer review pedagogy and also provide a model for pedagogical professional development for higher education faculty members.
Keywords: Peer review, feedback, student writing, professional development, multi-disciplinary collaborations.