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Education, Teaching

A Failed Experiment? Class Workshop – Peer Paper Review

I have often thought it a shame that the work students produce for final projects, essays and reports is often never shared beyond the individual/group authors and their instructor. Why should great work be confined like this? Why shouldn’t students have a chance to see what their peers are writing? Why not give them an opportunity to reflect on their own efforts as they read the work of others? Surely there is value in this type of collaboration.

Yesterday’s Advanced OB class broke the silence. Final reports for the class are not due for a couple of weeks, but today was dedicated to a rough draft review workshop. During the workshop they shared their work with classmates, gave and received feedback. Here are some of the details:

  • Students are preparing a report in groups of 5.
  • Each member attended class armed with a printed copy of their report.
  • The groups then divided themselves into new groups so that a representative from each authoring group was included.
  • They then exchanged papers, edited, made suggestions, sought clarification, and discussed each other’s work.
  • With all papers reviewed, and feedback collected, everyone returned to their original authoring groups to compare notes, and set a plan for finalizing their work.

Here is what I had hoped would happen:

  1. Easy mistakes like spelling and grammar would be identified and corrected.
  2. A variety of course concepts, integrated into each paper, would be reviewed and discussed in each group.
  3. The ideas and supporting discussion presented in each paper would be debated to improve the arguments, challenge assumptions and essentially, improve the final work.
  4. Students uncertain of their work would have an opportunity to reflect as they compare their efforts to others.

So what happened? The class started out very, very quiet. 30 minutes into the activity one student asked, “How do read these things?” Yes, grading papers can be challenging. (Hopefully with this extra review, this batch will be different.) After the outburst, things lightened up and conversations started. Papers ended up filled with comments and corrections.

The real noise started once the groups came back together to discuss their findings. 15 minutes after the reunion I began joining groups to find out what they had learned and to get their feedback on the activity. The groups felt this was a worthwhile activity, and that the feedback they received was helpful. Yes, spelling & grammar were corrected but important issues on the structure and clarity of their arguments were also identified in many groups.  I was feeling like this activity might be worth repeating.

However, when given the choice of having another workshop like this one, or making appointments to meet with me to review the paper, they chose the meetings. Hmmm, I wonder why? Any idea?


About amandabickell

Marketer - Teacher - Life Long Learner I love my job! I teach Marketing and Organizational Behaviour in undergraduate programs at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in BC. I consider myself a learning coach. My role in the classroom is to create an engaging learning environment where students are excited about their journey of discovery in the business world. Here I chronicle my coaching approach, share resources, and engage with students & colleagues. The views and perspectives I present here are purely personal, and don't necessarily reflect those of my university. If you are a "coach" too, feel free to borrow what you find here. Let me know how it works for you.


6 thoughts on “A Failed Experiment? Class Workshop – Peer Paper Review

  1. I enjoy doing peer reviews in my Anthropology classes. I use the framework from Janet Giltrow’s Academic Writing text. She recommends reading essays out loud in small groups, and ideally having your essay read out loud to you. This gets people talking, and then she suggests the think-aloud protocol – as soon as you hear something that makes you ‘stop’, mention it. Not necessarily, ‘That’s bad grammar.’ But, more along the lines of, ‘I thought your thesis was about x, but now I’m wondering if it’s maybe about y.’ I have students bring two copies of the draft–one to write notes on and one to have someone read (and hand in). Students often have great comments for one another. I often do this instead of instructor meetings, and just move around the room trying to connect with each student during the peer review endeavor.
    Larissa Petrillo (Anth, Kwantlen)

    Posted by Larissa Petrillo | July 20, 2011, 4:55 pm
  2. Love to hear how the final papers are. Did you “engineer” the discussion groups so that each group had a diversity of skill levels?

    Posted by Brad Anderson | July 22, 2011, 9:00 pm
    • Interesting – I didn’t consider this. No, I didn’t engineer the discussion groups other than to ensure that each member of the discussion represented a different project group. The original project groups were self-selected. As these groups divided and mingled, diversity of skills seemed to be present in the group rather naturally. Perhaps more attention to the group composition could improve this result.

      Posted by amandabickell | July 23, 2011, 9:14 am
  3. I wonder if applying a small part of the project points/grade to the peer review would motivate the students to get more involved from the beginning? Could the students take papers away for a few days to pre-read and prepare comments?

    Posted by Peter Chevrier | July 24, 2011, 10:22 am
    • Back from a trip – and all good comments here. I give 3% for the peer review process. Not all of the papers improve, but some do. I think that the most important element for students is just hearing how others write, they see where the bar is set, what topics people choose, how to develop an argument. I’ve heard from students who do the ‘take the paper home’ process, that it’s too much like marking, and it gets competitive. The ‘think aloud protocol’ makes it more collaborative. I definately pre-select! I give some major consideration to people’s topics, strengths, weaknesses, and come up with groups of 3-6 people. Some groups do choose to pass around their papers and mark them up while in the group, and that’s OK. Usually about 2 groups choose writing, and the others choose the read-aloud version. I’m usually pretty flexible with this, and tell people that the more they have complete, the more feedback they’ll get, but if they even only have a first paragraph to bring that in, and work from that. Sometimes, I have one group who hasn’t written anything yet, and they help each other come up with thesis statements. It’s good to get the sense that every stage of the writing process can involve continual collaboration and revision.

      Posted by Larissa Petrillo | August 16, 2011, 1:24 pm

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