“A peer review can be a very mysterious process, and certainly a scary one, which is why we need to talk more about how it’s done.” Wyn Kelley, Lecturer, Literature, MIT
One of the most powerful means of encouraging student engagement and learning is through peer review, or guiding students to both critique and encourage each other as they develop speeches, presentations, and paper drafts. Peer review activities enable students to seek guidance from others, and to gain an objective idea of the quality of their thinking and their ability to organize and present their own thoughts. Peer review, effectively, is what enables students to become better thinkers and communicators.
For some students, it can be difficult to provide concrete, actionable, and descriptive feedback to their peers. As Thomas Levenson, Professor in Writing and Humanistic Studies, MIT notes, many students are uncomfortable critiquing peers. To make sure students know that peer assessment should be constructive, he tells students that “they only get to say, ‘I liked it’ once per class.” It’s important that instructors give students a set of prompts that guide students, and enable them to see how they can be most productive and explicit in giving feedback. Grant Wiggins of Authentic Education, suggests that helpful feedback follows the following 7 criteria. It is 1) goal-referenced; 2) transparent; 3) actionable; 4) user-friendly; 5) timely; 6) ongoing; and 7) consistent. Peer feedback should, above all, provide students with a sense of closure as to where to go next.
Video: “No One Writes Alone” from MIT Video
The following are 10 prompts for peer review, compiled from real assignments across the disciplines; with 5 prompts on content and presentation skills, and 5 on technology:
CONTENT AND PRESENTATION:
1. What is the speaker’s main point?
2. How is the speech structured? Does the speaker have a distinct introduction and conclusion? Where does he signpost his argument?
3. How does the speaker use evidence and analysis? Do examples elaborate on facts? Can you tell the difference between broad ideas and details?
4. Is the amount of time the speaker spends on each point proportional to its importance to his argument?
5. How does the speaker engage the audience? Some things to comment on: voice level, tone, level of interest/excitement in subject, eye contact, responses/attitudes towards questions, approachability. How did his movement and gestures coordinate with content?
1. How well did the speaker coordinate his timing with the visuals?
2. Were the visuals relevant to the speech, and if so, how did they enhance it? Did the speaker adequately explain them?
3. Were the visuals clear, independently of the speaker? Voice any ideas about animations or graphics.
4. Did the speaker seem comfortable with the technology he/she used? How does the speaker respond to technological difficulties (if there were any?)
5. Are there any additional visuals that might have helped to enhance the speakers point?
While these prompts can be used in any context, real or online, they can be especially effective when both the presenters, as well as the reviewers, have the “the time to adequately reflect on the content presented and technology used before delivering feedback,” according to Robin Cooper, Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, University of Kentucky. Student feedback, when delivered in written form online, can take the pressure and discomfort off of class communication. Moreover, we’ve found that when students have the chance to review their own recorded presentations, the suggestions of their peers become increasingly actionable.
For more great reading and suggestions on peer review and assessment, check out the following resources:
Annie Murphy Paul: “From the Brilliant Report: How to Give Good Feedback.”
Cynthia C. Choi and Hsiang-ju Ho: “Exploring New Literacies in Online Peer-Learning Environments”
Gale Morris, “Using Peer Review to Improve Student Writing.”