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:

Introduction

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


Assessing Critical Thinking

July 10, 2008

Many of our users know about the Waypoint Public Library – a shared library of both Assignments and Elements created by our clients. Each month we’ll highlight a unique approach to assessment and feedback and make it easy for you to copy and utilize it.

As a first installment we thought we’d start with a double-shot of critical thinking, a crucial skill difficult to assess and of interest to educators from middle school through graduate school. These Assignments don’t formally address “critical thinking” as a skill, but seek to differentiate summarizing facts from making original connections while synthesizing information.

There are two versions of this Waypoint Assignment: one intended for peer review (pdf), and the other for an instructor (pdf) to use. Specific references (to writing handbooks etc.) have been removed. You can easily copy these Assignments from the Public Library and edit them to suit. The two Assignments are:

They both make use of Checklists, but you’ll notice that the first few Observations in the instructor versions have traditional ‘rubric’ choices. So the detailed Observations could be easily dropped and the Checklist Element converted to a Performance Element.

>> Read more about copying an Assignment from the Public LIbrary
>> See the detailed version of the instructor Assignment
>> See the detailed version of the peer review Assignment


Sophisticated Rubrics and and the Power of Feedback

June 23, 2008

We recently presented on a simple change to collecting work from students: ask them to include a cover letter, addressed to the instructor, with their submission of work. This cover letter should reflect upon the previous feedback they have received (from instructors and, most recently, their peer reviewers if applicable). It could also give the reader an overview of the goals of their work and specify areas in which they (the student) are most interested in receiving feedback.

We thought it useful to illustrate this process with examples.

The following example is from a college-level writing class where students were studying the effect of war on culture (and vice-versa). They were given the following assignment:

We will read some articles about Iraq, it’s effects, a history of horror movies, and a detailed account of the US involvement in Somalia.

Project 1 is an academic paper: formal diction, MLA citation formatting, credible research – the works. In four or five pages (1,000 to 1,250 words), you will make an original argument concerning the impact of art on war, or conversely war on art. By ‘art’ we mean the visual arts, music, film, novels – almost any creative undertaking. You can be quite liberal in your selection…just be prepared to defend the choice.

The key here is originality. Did Woodstock influence the Vietnam War? It’s probably easy to argue that it did (and also that it didn’t, since we were in Vietnam for another 6 years). Did the poetry of Wilfred Owen horrify the English so much that they avoided a second war with the Germans? No. And neither of these approaches would make a worthy paper.

Your four to five page paper must have at least three credible sources (not including the assigned work for the class).

It is worth noting that the students read several lengthy articles reviewing pop-culture icons (like the Saw series of films) that argued deep connections to more serious issues than the students might at first see. So they were set up to engage intellectually with material of their own choosing, and connect it to a war. There were several Harry Potter essays, but the results were satisfyingly diverse.

Here is an example cover letter from a student:

Example Student Cover Letter

Example cover letter: Click for a larger image

Here is the rubric used to assess and respond to the student, as it appears in Waypoint (interactive rubric software – the rubric could be translated to a paper-based approach):

Argumentative Essay Rubric

Rubric used to assess and respond: Click for a larger image

This student received the following feedback, along with an annotated document (created in Microsoft Word, then appended to the feedback in Waypoint), from the instructor:

Sample Feedback

Feedback to student: Click for a larger image

Needless to say, this kind of feedback is unusual in any educational setting – but the above was created in about 8 minutes, and the cover letter process (along with other tips and tricks) helps make sure the process is constructive and useful.

It is worth noting that this assignment was given in the middle of the academic term, so the students could be expected to learn from the feedback, then apply it in a final project that did not receive this kind of detailed feedback.


Blackboard Version 8, Peer Review, and Outcomes Assessment

May 20, 2008

We were pleasantly surprised to see Waypoint (web-based software for creating and using interactive rubrics…find out more here) featured in Bill Vilburg’s LMSPodcast series.

Bill is the Director of Instructional Advancement at the University of Miami, and does in-depth interviews on issues concerning Learning Management Systems. He has ambitiously set out to interview the all of the presenters at this year’s Blackboard World Conference in Las Vegas.

Last week he interviewed Dr. Rosemary Skeele, from Seton Hall University and Dan Driscoll, from Drexel.

All the interviews that Bill does are in-depth and wonderfully paced. The most exciting aspect to the interviews is how little time is spent talking about Waypoint. The interviews are all about the challenges of designing effective peer reviews, leveraging Blackboard and Blackboard Vista, and developing data that is used to improve curricula. Waypoint is just the mechanism.

Peer review, in particular, is an under-utilized tool in education. When done right (just listen to Dan Driscoll’s process) it is a fantastic way for teachers to coach more, grade less, and radically alter students’ relationship with writing. With the release of Blackboard Version 8, there is a window of attention on the subject because v.8 has a rudimentary Likert Scale commenting tool built into it. Since Waypoint was designed from day one with peer review in mind – peer review of any artifact or product – and is based on sound composition and pedagogical theory, we look forward to an increased dialogue on the subject.

You can find the podcasts here:

LMS 43 Dan Driscoll, Drexel University

Dan Driscoll uses the Waypoint add-on system to create a peer review system in his first-year composition courses at Drexel. He discusses how he sets up the rubrics and then has the students fill them out. The process of applying the rubric to the papers gves students as much or more value than the feedback given back to the original author. Dan will be presenting “Course-Embedded Assessment and the Peer Review Process” at BbWorld’08, July 15-17.

>> Play the Podcast

LMS 42 Rosemary Skeele, Seton Hall

Rosemary Skeele describes how Seton Hall is using the Waypoint addon for Blackboard to help assess learning, primiarily for accreditation purposes. Waypoint allows you to integrate rubrics into Blackboard and in the process opens new possibilities. Rosemary will be presenting “Blackboard and Waypoint: Perfect Together” at BbWorld’08, July 15-17.

>> Play the Podcast