Online peer-review activities are great to support social learning and to challenge learners’ critical thinking and feedback skills.
The skills developed in peer-review activities are essential employability skills and link directly to collaborative work faced in employment. In online settings, peer-review is also an effective way to provide a source of connection between learners.
Peer-review can take the form of reviewed discussion forum posts, project or essay plans and final assessment submissions to name a few examples.
Much like group work, peer-review activities can be a source of friction between learners and instructors and should be carefully planned to reduce disagreements.
Provide clear guidance
This is crucial. Learners must know what the scope of their peer-review will be. Clear guidance, including a rubric and template feedback form with examples, will help learners to identify the right kind of feedback to provide for their peers.
For example, if you are planning a peer-review discussion forum, provide guidance for learners on:
- The number of posts to review (a sample or all posts)
- How long the review should be (word count)
- The turnaround time for the review (in days or a deadline)
- The key topics/parameters to review their peers against (grading rubric)
- A structure for the review (inclusion of positive notes and constructive criticism)
In addition to the structure of feedback, offering some guidance around the spirit of peer-review can help to set the tone. For example, highlight that feedback is subjective, not personal and that all feedback should be provided in a way that is constructive rather than critical or negative.
You should include in your guidance a summary of how the peer-review activity adds value to the experience for your learners and relates to the course learning outcomes, future employability and/or further summative assessment. This will help learners to see the value and encourage wholehearted participation.
Make it count
Offer a percentage of the course or module grade for completing the peer-review activity.
This will help to avoid the possibility of some learners taking it seriously and others not which could potentially leave some learners without feedback.
Linking the feedback rubric to percentages will help learners to see where they should focus the attention of their peer-review.
Example of a peer-review discussion forum grading rubric:
- Presentation (spelling and grammar) 10%
- Leadership/connection to others 15%
- Synthesis of peers posts 25%
- Focus on discussion topic 25%
- Inclusion of sources/clear referencing 25%
Be ready to offer your own feedback
Learners are less likely to value the feedback of their peers and may approach you for advice on the feedback received. They may be interested to know if you agree with the peer feedback or not.
For example, a learner’s peer feedback might suggest restructuring the work to present it in a different order. Before embarking on a potentially major change to their work, the learner might be keen to check with you if this is the right thing to do.
All feedback and grading is subjective and there will always be differences in grading between learners. In extreme cases of disagreement between learners or the poor feedback provided, you should be prepared to review individual cases of peer feedback and offer your opinion. You may also need to think about how this process might link to any grade review or appeals.
For this reason, peer-review should not be used to reduce the amount of feedback or grading needed from the instructor. Poorly planned peer-review can result in a significant amount of work for the instructor and a poor experience for learners.
Peer-review can be an effective tool to support the development of a learning community and challenge learners critical thinking. With some prior consideration for the format, scope and potential to resolve disagreements, your peer-review activities will add value to your learner’s online experience.