Fingers with smiley faces on them, each with a speech bubble above, indicating "feedback".

Learning to love peer reviews

When I started teaching instructional design, I hesitated adding peer reviews into my course. However, when I did add them, my students often commented about how they were one of the most valuable parts of the course – both the act of giving a review and receiving one.

My scientific brain questioned the value in peer reviews, because that part of me was focused on there being right and wrong answers. Students sometimes worry about whether or not the feedback they are providing is correct. However, the courses I teach are design courses. In design, there is no one ‘right’ answer. Yes, some designs are better than others but there is no one ‘right’ answer. Some design preferences are personal preference and may not be the preference of others. What we learn through peer review are what aspects of the design work and what aspects of the design don’t work – and sometimes the peer doing the review provides some great suggestions on ways to improve the design. It is the perspective of a fresh set of eyes that is the value in peer reviews.

Initially I provided very basic forms (or no forms) for peer review. Some students took the assignment seriously and provided a lot of feedback. Others did a really superficial job. The students who received the detailed feedback really appreciated it. The students who took the time to provide good feedback, but only received superficial feedback felt like they had been cheated.

Over the years, I’ve learned to provide some scaffolding before introducing peer review activities. I’ve found that through this process, student learn to love giving and receiving feedback. For the design courses that I teach that involve a lot of peer feedback, the students leave course comments specifically about the benefits of both giving and receiving feedback. The scaffolds I use include:

  1. Provide readings on ways to give feedback. I particularly like Laura Gibb’s WWW Feedback Strategy. I find that when
  2. Model good feedback in your marking. Learning from Laura’s WWW Feedback Strategy, when I’m giving student feedback on design assignments, I often start with “I wonder if…”. I also highlight to students that my feedback is my opinion, and the design document is theirs, so they don’t necessarily need to use my feedback. This is also true for the feedback they receive from peers.
  3. Provide specific templates with questions that are tailored to the project. I find that if I use a specific template then students are forces to provide a minimum level of feedback. This helps to provide students with enough structure to understand what is expected of them when doing a peer review.
  4. Ensure that you have at least two students reviewing each student project. If one student does a superficial job or has contrary opinions to the creator, the other student often provides a level of balance which increases a sense of fairness.
  5. Have students provide the feedback but also hand it in. I validate that students are giving an appropriate level of feedback and are not being either superficial or too harsh. Sometimes students need feedback on the feedback they are giving. I give them ideas on how they can improve the feedback they are giving.

What tips do you have for helping your students learn to love peer reviews?

I'd love to hear your thoughts

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