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Remote Peer Review Strategies

For many writing teachers, effective peer review is just as important a skill as crafting an outline or writing a clear thesis statement. Unfortunately, remote teaching poses some challenges for teachers who use typical in-person peer review strategies. However, there are a number of ways to adapt what normally occurs in the classroom to work online. These strategies, of course, depend on the level of your students and the equipment they have available to them. Some you may be able to use as presented, some may need to be adapted before they'll work for your class, and some may not be possible at all. Moreover, because a wide variety of  learning management systems (LMS) are available to teachers today, it's impossible to provide instructions that will work for every teacher's situation. Feel free, then, to modify the general strategies below as needed to fit the needs of your course.

Provide Support for First-time Peer Reviewers

If you need to teach students how to do peer review for the first time, it is a good idea to help them understand how peer review functions in the writing process, or at least show them some examples of what effective peer review looks like. In this case, consider using resources provided by the Eli Review at Michigan State University. The Review's Describe-Evaluate-Suggest framework video, for example, gives students the language to talk about peer review with their classmates, and the advice in the video can be adapted to a variety of educational contexts. Providing students frameworks that define the peer review task (like this one) can help guide them away from shallow, negative commentary and toward the sort of deep, constructive insights that make peer review more useful.

You may also consider making use of the OWL's own peer review presentation, which was created with a student audience in mind.

Make Your Expectations Clear

One of the biggest challenges of remote teaching is communicating expectations. Whereas questions about assignments can be addressed as they emerge in physical classrooms, teachers of online courses benefit from trying to anticipate questions in advance. For peer review, giving students clear targets for acceptable amounts of feedback can help answer questions about how much they need to do to succeed and how much feedback is enough. For instance, these sorts of instructions might the following form:

"You should write at least five substantive comments in-text using the comment function on Google Docs, and you should write a paragraph of feedback at the end of the document that is at least five sentences."

The drawback to this strategy, however, is that students may reach the target you have set and promptly stop. Nevertheless, setting these expectations makes it more likely that students receive at least a certain amount of useful feedback from their partners. Similarly, in a physical classroom, it is simple to remind students what they should be looking for in a peer's work. Online, however, these expectations need to be frontloaded. Checklists, questions, and frameworks for how to provide commentary (like the Describe-Evaluate-Suggest framework above) help keep students on track.

Another strategy that can augment a prompt from the instructor is to have students include a memo to their peers with their draft that discusses problem areas that the student is worried about, areas they are confident about, and questions they have.

Use Digital Platforms to Facilitate Collaboration

Depending on students' access to equipment and the learning management system your class uses, you may have a variety of options for how to structure the peer review. LMSs with robust grouping and discussion board tools can allow you to initiate peer review between just a few students or between all students in the class. Similarly, students can attach their work to an initial discussion board post, allowing others to reply with holistic commentary in subsequent posts or attachments, depending on what you'd like them to do. If you use a platform like Google Docs, you can also have students take advantage of commenting features or even suggested edit features to demonstrate how they might rework a sentence, etc. If students have microphones, they could even record audio as they read through a piece to give reader reaction feedback in the moment. 

Whatever strategy you choose to use, you should ensure that all student work is visible to you, whether in the learning management system as text comments or file attachments or in the form of cloud-saved documents shared with you as well as with their partners. Even if you're not grading feedback, you may need access to these documents later in case students have a dispute.

Sample Peer Review Assignment

Here is an example of a peer review assignment from an online writing class. This assignment uses threaded discussion boards to group students:

For peer review, you'll review the work of two of your classmates. In this thread, upload your documents as attachments to your first post.

Please offer at least ten substantive comments on your partners' documents using the comments function in Microsoft Word. You can do this by clicking Review >> New Comment. Save a copy of the document on your own computer, make comments, and then upload the new document here. Alternatively, you can post a numbered list of specific comments that point your partner to the section you're referring to.

I have uploaded a rubric for the resume and cover letter deliverables for Unit 1 to this week's page. Once you have made substantive in-text comments on your partner's documents, use the rubric to assess their work. You're not grading the document, but the categories and qualities listed on the rubric should help you structure your comments. Using your in-text comments and your rubric-based assessment, finish off the peer review by writing 1-2 paragraphs (using the DES framework) summarizing your feedback. When you are done, you should see a mix of praise for what your partner is doing well and constructive criticism to help them improve.

Please keep in mind that you are engaging in a conversation about your classmate's ideas. Don't focus on grammar, mechanics and spelling — instead, highlight positive aspects of the draft, and then provide constructive feedback and suggestions on what could be improved or changed, following the Describe - Evaluate - Suggest framework we read about. I will grade peer review as part of the Unit 1 total. Commenting only "good job" or similar, giving only critical comments, or commenting only on grammar, mechanics and spelling will result in deducted points.

Post your drafts by Friday, 6/14, 11:59pm EST. Post comments back to your classmates by Monday, 6/17, 11:59pm EST.