Peer Review Tools That Will Come In Handy In Writing
djrandco/Shutterstock.com

Peer Review Tools That Will Come In Handy In Writing

Perhaps no part of the writing process gets as much criticism as peer review. Students typically offer bland feedback and resent the time taken away from their own work. Instructors spend time setting up groups and inevitably end up refereeing various disagreements among classmates.

Yet when it is done well, peer review can offer students a variety of viewpoints, teach them how to constructively give and take criticism, and lighten teachers’ grading loads. A 2011 study proved this technique can also boost students’ own writing prowess. As detailed in a Journal of Educational Psychology article, an experiment proved students who reviewed classmates’ papers and then wrote their own paper on a similar topic “significantly outperformed” classmates who either didn’t review any papers or those who read classmates’ papers but didn’t comment on them.

Actually, “peer review is not different from writing,” argues Emilia Illana-Mahiques, a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Iowa. “It is all the same thing.”

Illana-Mahiques has worked hard with her students to construct a system where reviewers offer valuable advice and learn how to complete different types of writing themselves. What might be new is how she leans on a variety of technology tools to help advance her theories and set up a productive framework.

But before the professor created her current system, she realized she needed to cover one big point: to sell students on the importance of peer review. Illana-Mahiques explained to students that all news articles they read are peer-reviewed, the same for the movies and music they consume.

Peer reviewing “is not only for this class,” she explained.

Still, it took the professor three semesters to learn how to set up productive peer reviews, teaching students what comments were simply negative and which were constructive. Now she spends the first two weeks of each course laying out the basics and says the work pays off later in the semester.

“If you don’t go through this training, technology won’t make good writers and reviewers,” she adds.

Finding The Right Peer Review Tools

Illana-Mahiques says she quickly realized technology could help structure peer reviews and offer guidelines that would make the practice better for all students. She set out to test a variety of peer review tools and after some trial and error, she found 3 tech tools that fit what she wanted to accomplish in her classroom.

The first tool she uses is Google’s Kaizena. This free tool allows students to record voice comments on others’ works. The tool doesn’t integrate into the Learning Management System that Illana-Mahiques uses and instructors must set up each group manually.

Illana-Mahiques uses this tool for students who are writing descriptive pieces, the first type of work she tackles in her course. It’s not complicated, students don’t need to create an account and they can chat and send files to each other on Kaizena. It’s a good way to allow students to get to know each other and create a community, she says.

When students advance into academic writing, Illana-Mahiques turns to Peerceptiv, the tool from Panther Learning System that was formerly called SWoRD Peer Assessment. The strength of Peerceptiv is that is can automatically perform a set of calculations on writing, depending on reviews received. This culminates in creating automated grades for both the piece being reviewed and for the reviewers’ work, says the University of Iowa professor.

Using this tool at the end of the semester helps give students instant feedback, which is appreciated when time is short, Illana-Mahiques adds. She says some students always complain that “the machine” is grading their paper, but she quickly lets them know grades are based on the specific rubric she includes for each assignment.

Getting Personal With PeerMark From Turnitin

When classwork turns to personal narratives, Illana-Mahiques has students switch to PeerMark, part of Turnitin, the internet-based plagiarism detection software. While Turnitin is a subscription-based service, it does allow professors to make assignments right from various LMS tools such as Canvas, Blackboard, and Sakai.

Because personal narratives can bend in many different directions and include various elements such as the emotions of characters or rising and falling action, Peermark works well because it allows students to make specific comments in exact locations, Illana-Mahiques says.

“It allows students to go fine-grain,” she adds. “They can highlight a single word and add a comment there.” The professor doesn’t use this tool for checking work against a rubric, but more as a checklist. She says it is easy to see students go back to their own work after reviewing others and make changes before they even get feedback.

Illana-Mahiques did say she has to manage not only the frequency of peer reviews but also the structure to keep students engaged. When she tried to set up two reviews for one piece of work, she found students were leaving their conclusion out, waiting for feedback before committing to an ending. Her change was simple: have some students break down an outline for a piece of work. This allows reviewers to be critical and yet not directly criticize sections of writing, she adds.

“A writing course is more than just writing and submitting,” Illana-Mahiques says. “If I could create a course in just peer review, I would.” The way she now sets up her writing courses allows today’s generation of students to understand the process of reflection. “These courses are needed precisely because this is where you learn this is important.”

Close