Guest post by Leslie Babinski, Research Scientist with Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy and 2011-2012 CIT-TWP Research with Writing Faculty Fellow.
This post is part of a series by the CIT-TWP Fellows discussing how they implemented changes in their course after participating in the year-long program. The Research with Writing Fellows was a joint effort between the Center for Instructional Technology and the Thompson Writing program and was led by faculty member Jennifer Ahern-Dodson.
One of my goals for students in the Children in Contemporary Society class (CCS 150/PubPol 124) is that they learn to write a comprehensive research paper synthesizing empirical research findings and apply them to analyze a policy or program. This is a challenging task for even an experienced researcher, so I know that students struggle with this assignment and require lots of guidance and individual feedback. To provide opportunities for me to give this feedback in different stages of their research work, I divided the assignment into three phases over the course of the semester. Typically, students receive written feedback from me on two drafts of their paper, and I also meet with each student individually to talk with them about their papers.
Since students in previous semesters indicated their writing benefitted from the personalized feedback they received from me, and because I also knew I needed to explore other ways of providing personalized feedback that didn’t rely exclusively on me as the instructor, I wanted to try peer review as a feedback strategy. As part of my work in the 2011-2012 Research with Writing Fellows Program, I worked to design, integrate, and then assess the use of peer review in the Spring 2012 iteration of my course. We had two peer review sessions during the semester. In addition, the students wrote a process memo to me describing how they used my feedback as well as their peers’ feedback and submitted this memo with their revision. (Peer review assignment student handout [pdf]) The three learning goals for the peer review process were to:
- Give students a chance to see how others were approaching the assignment.
- Develop a critical eye that would be helpful in their own writing.
- Provide authors with another’s point of view.
Overall, I was pleased with the peer review process and how the students were thinking about their revisions based on what they articulated in the process memo. I noticed that some students were better than others at providing critical feedback. More instruction from me in how to do this would be helpful in the future. I found the memos very helpful in identifying what the students were thinking and how I might provide more directed feedback.
I asked students for feedback on the changes I made to my instruction as a result of integrating peer review into the research assignment. First, I asked them to rate the helpfulness of each component of the research assignment on a 1 (not at all helpful) to 5 (extremely helpful) scale. Students were also prompted to provide feedback about the peer review process, the value of the assignment in meeting the learning goals for the class, and what aspects of the assignments should be kept or changed for future classes. (A copy of the evaluation tool [pdf] is attached.)
The peer review sessions and the process memo received good ratings (both 3.41 on the 5 point scale). The students’ comments showed that almost all students found the peer feedback process helpful. For example, one student commented that the peer review process was “sooooooo unbelievable helpful.” Other students commented that the peer review process helped them think about their own paper in new ways they hadn’t considered and that it was good to get new insight. Another commented that their peer “made me realize things I would not have otherwise – I ended up restructuring my entire paper.” One student mentioned that they liked hearing their peer’s feedback but “sometimes people are too nice to be critical.”
Overall, it was clear that adding peer feedback sessions was a valuable way to give the students additional feedback on their research papers. I learned that students’ value their peers’ perceptions and that more guidance from me on how to be a good peer reviewer can strengthen this process and the quality of their responses. Based on my experience and the students’ assessment, I plan to continue to integrate peer review into the research assignment, but plan for more time for students to read and review their peers’ papers, to give students guidelines for giving high quality feedback, and instruction on how to work with peers’ responses.