Effective Peer Review Practices: Leveraging the LMS

July 14, 2008

The folks at Waypoint Outcomes just posted a white paper that discusses best practices in designing peer review, particularly in blended (hybrid) or purely online teaching modalities.

The approach described is LMS-agnostic, and only mentions Waypoint via Appendices to highlight how Waypoint improves upon many of the issues/opportunities highlighted.

>> Download the PDF version of the white paper

We are very interested in feedback – what strategies have you found to be effective?

Read an excerpt:


Peer review is a widely accepted practice, particularly in writing classes, from high school through college and graduate school. The goal of peer review is typically two-fold:

1)      To help students get valuable feedback at the draft stage of their work.

2)      To help students more deeply understand the goals of the assignment.

Unfortunately, peer review is often used as a busy-work activity, or a process that takes advantage of conscientious students while allowing others to do superficial work. For instance, many teachers will hand out a list of peer review questions in class, and then give students 30 minutes to review two papers written by their colleagues. An open-ended question might be:

  • “Did the writer adequately summarize and discuss the topic? Explain.”

Many students will write “Yes” under this question and move on. Without review by the instructor (difficult to do when many instructors have 50 to 150 students), these students can destroy the social contract of a peer review. Other students will spend a lot of time making line edits to the draft – correcting grammar, making minor changes to sentences etc. At the draft stage this is probably inappropriate – the focus should be on ideas and big-picture organization, not embroidery. Plus, some students aren’t qualified to be dictating where the semicolon should go.

“Peer review can be some of the most important writing students ever do – because they have a real audience for their work.”

Dr. Scott Warnock
Drexel University

Students aren’t alone in having these problems; in 1982, Nancy Sommers published her highly influential piece, “Responding to Student Writing,” in which she commented about how little teachers understand the value of their commenting practices, and that, essentially, they don’t know what their comments do. She raised numerous long-standing points in her evaluation of teachers’ first and second draft comments on papers. Two of her major findings:

1)      Teachers provide paradoxical comments that lead students to focus more on “what teachers commanded them to do than on what they are trying to say” (151).

2)      She found “most teachers’ comments are not text-specific and could be interchanged, rubber-stamped, from text to text” (152). One result is that revising, for students, becomes a “guessing game” (153). Sommers concluded by saying, “The challenge we face as teachers is to develop comments which will provide an inherent reason for students to revise” (156).

Most teachers have experienced this last point when a student asks, “what do you want.” The student doesn’t understand the larger goal of the assignment and has learned that achievement comes through figuring out the personal foibles of their current teacher.

These outcomes are unfortunate, because peer review (and written feedback from teachers) can be one of the most powerful learning experiences for students.

From our perspective, peer review should:

1)      Help the students improve their work through the drafting process.

2)      Deepen the understanding of the assignment and its goals for both authors and reviewers (and teachers!).

3)      Allow instructors to assign more authentic work without requiring they read and grade piles of papers – so they do more coaching than grading.

4)      Give students opportunities to create authentic work – that is, peer reviews written (or spoken) to a real audience: the author. Peer review, in the words of Drexel University’s Dr. Scott Warnock, “can be some of the most important writing students ever do – because they have a real audience for their work.”

Read the rest in the PDF