Peer Feedback Taken to the Next Level

Peer Feedback Taken to the Next Level
Peer Feedback Taken to the Next Level

It’s a senior-level ecology course and one in which students must develop a research grant proposal. They do their first draft of the proposal after three days in the field and then that draft is reviewed in a process that simulates how grant proposals are evaluated. What’s unique is that the four-person review panel includes two faculty members and two students from the class. After discussing a proposal, each reviewer prepares written feedback that the grant proposal author then uses to write the final draft.

Even though students received some training on evaluating grant proposals, in follow-up interviews the students worried about their competence. They were reviewing proposals in areas where they did not have detailed knowledge. They were also concerned about how to frame their comments. “Students assumed that teachers had been trained as peer reviewers, and did not understand that in professional situations peer review is not taught but learned through trial and error over time, often with less support than was offered in the ecology programme.” (p. 807)

However, analysis of the written reviews provided by students revealed commentary at a higher level than the faculty authors expected. Students did much more than make editorial recommendations. In fact, there was a marked consistency between the feedback the teacher provided and that provided by the students. A double-blind review process was used so the student who’d written the proposal did not know which feedback was provided by the teachers and which came from the student reviewers. They thought they could tell, but they frequently missed. The students also reported during the follow-up interviews that they valued the teacher’s feedback more than that provided by their peers, and they said they would take teacher recommendations over that of their peers. However, final drafts included evidence that this was not always the case.

The student grant proposal authors were required to write a detailed response to the feedback. For each suggestion or recommendation, they had to say why they used it, why they only used part of it, or why they opted not to take the advice. And here the analysis identified students who rejected well-reasoned points made by the teacher in favor of suggestions offered by the student reviewer. A number of students expressed surprise that sometimes the reviewers disagreed and offered conflicting feedback.

This is not an approach to peer review that could be used in a large course or one for beginning students new to peer review. But for more experienced students, it’s an approach that develops peer review skills on both sides of the process. Through it, students learn how to provide feedback and the assignment structure forces them to evaluate the feedback and justify their response to it. Other research has documented how reviewing the work of a peer motivates students to look more critically at their own work. Even though only the final grant proposal was graded, students took this peer review opportunity very seriously. The authors observe, “. . . it was interesting to note that all students recognized the reciprocal advantages of peer review. They were prepared to work hard for others to gain something in return . . .” (p. 810)

Peer review is a process used in many professional fields to accomplish a variety of different goals. It’s not an easy skill and it’s not one of those skills that higher education curricula regularly develop with any degree of thoroughness. The peer review process outlined here models an approach that does take those skills to the next level.

Reference:

Harland, T., Wald, N., and Randhawa, H. (2017). Student peer review: Enhancing formative feedback with a rebuttal. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42 (6), 801-811.

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It's a senior-level ecology course and one in which students must develop a research grant proposal. They do their first draft of the proposal after three days in the field and then that draft is reviewed in a process that simulates how grant proposals are evaluated. What's unique is that the four-person review panel includes two faculty members and two students from the class. After discussing a proposal, each reviewer prepares written feedback that the grant proposal author then uses to write the final draft. Even though students received some training on evaluating grant proposals, in follow-up interviews the students worried about their competence. They were reviewing proposals in areas where they did not have detailed knowledge. They were also concerned about how to frame their comments. “Students assumed that teachers had been trained as peer reviewers, and did not understand that in professional situations peer review is not taught but learned through trial and error over time, often with less support than was offered in the ecology programme.” (p. 807) However, analysis of the written reviews provided by students revealed commentary at a higher level than the faculty authors expected. Students did much more than make editorial recommendations. In fact, there was a marked consistency between the feedback the teacher provided and that provided by the students. A double-blind review process was used so the student who'd written the proposal did not know which feedback was provided by the teachers and which came from the student reviewers. They thought they could tell, but they frequently missed. The students also reported during the follow-up interviews that they valued the teacher's feedback more than that provided by their peers, and they said they would take teacher recommendations over that of their peers. However, final drafts included evidence that this was not always the case. The student grant proposal authors were required to write a detailed response to the feedback. For each suggestion or recommendation, they had to say why they used it, why they only used part of it, or why they opted not to take the advice. And here the analysis identified students who rejected well-reasoned points made by the teacher in favor of suggestions offered by the student reviewer. A number of students expressed surprise that sometimes the reviewers disagreed and offered conflicting feedback. This is not an approach to peer review that could be used in a large course or one for beginning students new to peer review. But for more experienced students, it's an approach that develops peer review skills on both sides of the process. Through it, students learn how to provide feedback and the assignment structure forces them to evaluate the feedback and justify their response to it. Other research has documented how reviewing the work of a peer motivates students to look more critically at their own work. Even though only the final grant proposal was graded, students took this peer review opportunity very seriously. The authors observe, “. . . it was interesting to note that all students recognized the reciprocal advantages of peer review. They were prepared to work hard for others to gain something in return . . .” (p. 810) Peer review is a process used in many professional fields to accomplish a variety of different goals. It's not an easy skill and it's not one of those skills that higher education curricula regularly develop with any degree of thoroughness. The peer review process outlined here models an approach that does take those skills to the next level. Reference: Harland, T., Wald, N., and Randhawa, H. (2017). Student peer review: Enhancing formative feedback with a rebuttal. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42 (6), 801-811.