Peer Reviewing in the Online Classroom   

Roxanne Reeves says that by using peer review, her students not only improve their personal writing skills, but they also learn the value of social networks and the advantages of using a pair of ‘fresh-eyes’. Students in Reeves’ RCLP 1062: Citizenship and Community Issues course are asked to propose a solution to a public problem on an issue that they are passionate about. The students then prepare a ten-page proposal or Memorandum to the Executive Council (MEC) with the intent to submit the proposal to any of the three levels of government or to the organization. This end of semester assignment involves encouraging students to develop career-long habits of self-motivated learning in a local, global, reflective, historical, and co-learning context.

The proposals are digitally peer reviewed and submitted over D2L Brightspace. Reeves directs her students to resources like the UNB writing center, gives them instructions on how to use Word’s Track Changes feature, and shares with them examples of student’s proposals from previous classes. By allowing them to choose a subject they are passionate about, Roxanne says they are also more likely to put the project into action. Most students present or submit the assignment to the organization they’ve crafted it for.

“On various levels, this peer review assignment serves students by teaching them how to define a problem, grapple with ideas, rethink their assumptions and examine their mental models of reality. It helps them decide what they need to solve problems, find and evaluate new information, stretch their limits, and, finally, how to be prepared both for change and to change,” says Reeves.

Within the four-walls of more traditional classroom environments, students are more easily able to socialize enriching the learning experience and create networks that are often of value well beyond graduation. However, for online students, the chance to build face-to-face relationships is removed. What makes this exercise especially topical for Reeves is that it helps remove students’ ‘distance’ from their peers. “For online students, the chance to build relationships is to a degree removed, so as an online instructor, I feel that I have a responsibility to find ways to support student-to-student connections. Coaching students on how to be constructive and kind editors likewise creates human empathy and often deeper bonds among students, and in my classroom I believe in the importance of relationship building."

Reeves acknowledges that students’ initial reactions are to panic- and sometimes even “flame”- as seen with their online comments; “So as a teacher you have to have thick skin, and you have to be really confident in your motives.” However, by pushing students past their comfort zone, Reeves says that they became open to a deep and broad learning experience. “Good teachers have been ‘disruptive’ since the beginning of time; a good teacher always challenges students — in a constructive manner."

In the end, the peer review effort each and every student contributed was inspiring; Reeves says everyone "left the experience better for it. Students bonded and grades increased." Students ultimately showed their appreciation for the methodology with their end of year feedback and with personal notes. One of her students had this to say: “You definitely pushed me to become a more critically thoughtful student and made me stretch myself out of my comfort zone with the (peer review) aspect of the course. As I am relatively new to academic work, your course gave me the opportunity to expand my abilities in research, writing, and creativity, and for that, I would like to thank you.” Another student wrote, “I learned a lot in this course. It’s strange, but I seem to know my fellow online classmates and educator better than ones I’ve shared physical classes with.

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