Monday, 5 December 2016

Peer review: How to enhance learning without increasing your workload.

Peer review and feedback is generally perceived as an effective pedagogy (Zingaro & Porter, 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012; Nicol, 2010; Crouch, et al, 2007; Mitra, 2003).  As stated by Nicol (2013:103):

Peer review is an important alternative to teacher feedback, as research indicates that both the production and the receipt of feedback reviews can enhance students learning without necessarily increasing teacher workload.

In written activities peer review facilitates ‘... improvement in writing style, an awareness of how to apply assessment criteria and an ability to self-assess future work ...’ (Mostert & Snowball, 2012:679).  Nicol (2010) goes further, and states that:

… the act of giving feedback is cognitively more demanding; it engages students more actively in the process; they spend time thinking about the criteria and how the assignment is related to the criteria ...
Nicol (2010, in University of Strathclyde, 2010:3:06)

A recent online course at Edge Hill University (Callaghan, 2013), following Salmon’s five stage model (2004) evidenced the effectiveness of peer review.  Here are some points from students’ perspectives:
  • More timely, and a greater quantity of feedback available (no ‘one academic’ bottleneck);
  • Several varied perspectives encourages deeper self-reflection;
  • Peer language is better received / understood (Topping, 1998);
… and that the quality of the peer feedback became more useful as the course progressed - and peers’ became more confident and competent in their review and feedback skills.

More recently, Nicol et al. suggest that peer review closes “ … the gap between receipt of feedback and its application” (2015:104), allowing opportunities to use the feedback in their current work, something that is “ … quite rare after teacher feedback” (ibid).

Issues / barriers

Some issues / barriers include:

  • Students’ having a lack of confidence in their own work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Students’ lack confidence in commenting on peers’ work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013)
  • Students not happy with others commenting on their work (Callaghan, 2015; Wilson et al., 2014)
  • Quality of comments poor, in some part due to reluctance to offer areas for improvement (Callaghan, 2015)
  • ‘ … lack of confidence in assessors and/or assessments ...’ (Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Mostert & Snowball report 47% of students found ‘ … the peer assessment exercise was not useful.’. [note though, this was assessment, not review / feedback]
  • Students concerned about others using their work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Evidence that instructor intervention is required to reap significant learning gains (Zingaro & Porter, 2014);

… and in an online ‘leveraged’ environment, where the the tutor's voice is amplified to 100s or 1000s of students, tutors will feel pressured to produce well polished interactions (Bair and Bair, 2011).

Here's a PowerPoint addressing some of the barriers: Peer Review as a Pedagogy, given as part of my SOLSTICE Fellowship at Edge Hill University.

Now what (Driscoll, 2007)

Intended outcomes of following this approach include:

1) Getting students more engaged with learning content - effectively: i.e., minimising interaction required from tutors.  However, those looking to reduce their workloads should be warned that such motivation is not a successful driver (Wilson et al., 2014).

2) Encouraging the use of technology to facilitate peer review - with echoes of 'Community of Inquiry' (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) creating a deeper and more engaging learning experience.  Ideas such as Zhao et al.’s (2014) three strands of participation, interaction and social presence may further inform your approach.

3) Also consider the role of the tutor - encouraging tutors to move away from being the source of knowledge or ‘Sage on the Stage’ (King, 1993) to be more of a learning facilitator, like a ‘Guide on the Side’ (Hertz-Lazarowitz & Shacher, 1990) or ‘Ghost in the Wings’ (Mazzolini and Maddison, 2007).

I hope that having read this far you might have a little more confidence and knowledge about the peer review process and have ideas about how to embed effective online discussion into their curricula.  I'm always happy to continue the discussion too - perhaps via @dbcallaghan - perhaps this may lead onto a webinar?


Callaghan, D. (2015) Experiences teaching an online 3rd year dissertation module at Edge Hill University, Nov 2014 - Feb 2015.

Callaghan, D. (2013) A Tidal Wave of Discussion … How active discussion produced outstanding results [online].  Available from: [13th May 2015].

Crouch, H., Watkins, J. Fagen, A.P., Mazur, E. (2007) Peer Instruction: Engaging students one-on-one, all at once in Reviews in Physics Education Research, Ed. E.F. Redish and P. Cooney, pp. 1-1 (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, MD, 2007). Available from:

Driscoll, J., 2007. Practising clinical supervision: a reflective approach for healthcare professionals. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Hertz-Lazarowitz, R. and Shachar, H. (1990) Teachers' verbal behavior in cooperative and whole-class instruction. In: S. Sharan (eds) Cooperative Learning. Praeger. 77-94.

King, A., Learning, P. A. and Questioning, G. R. P. (1993) From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41 (1) 30-35.

Mazzolini, M. and Maddison, S. (2007) When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 49 (2) 193-213.

Mitra, S. (2003). “Minimally Invasive Education: A progress report on the "Hole-in-the-wall" experiments”. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(3), 367-371.

Mostert, M.; Snowball , J. (2012) Where angels fear to tread: online peer-assessment in a large first-year class Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education Vol. 38, Iss. 6, 2013

Nicol, D. (2010) The foundation for graduate attributes: Developing self-regulation through self and peer assessment. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.Scotland,

Nicol, D., Thomson, A, and Breslin, C. (2013) Rethinking feedback practices in
higher education: a peer review perspective. Assessment and evaluation in higher education. 39(1),  102-122.

Salmon, G. (2004) E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. London: Routledge.

Topping, K. 1998. Peer Assessment between Students in Colleges and Universities.  Review of Educational Research, 68(3), 249–276.

University of Strathclyde (2010) REAP Video [accessed 20-05-2015]

Zingaro, D., & Porter, L. (2014) Peer instruction in computing: The value of instructor intervention. Computers & Education, 71 , 87–96.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Blogs, discussion boards and journals.

A frequent question is how to use blogs and discussion boards.  Here's some recent advice:

Thanks for this opportunity to think things through – I feel a blog post coming on!?
I like discussion for collaboration – it’s a fab tool for those developing their confidence with their peers, reinforcing concepts; exploring issues; learning by explaining to others etc.
Blogs may be useful for more confident /capable students as there is an intended audience to write for and the possibility of critique / criticism.
Journals should also be considered – these are usually private to the student and tutor, so are great for less confident learners to build up their writing skills.
So, in summary, and making swathing* generalisations, journals for Y1, blogs (perhaps just Blackboard / internal ones) and discussion for Y2, and for Y3 look at public blogs and engagement with public discussion forums (TES etc).
Very kindest regards,
*Did you know a swathe is the amount of hay you can cut by hand in one pass? (late night R4!?)

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Creating talking head and similar videos

A popular topic on the Edge Hill PGCert course has been making ‘talking head’ and other videos / screen casts for teaching and learning.

I encourage colleagues to create ‘rough and ready’ / disposable video for teaching and learning. However, if colleagues want to move to the next step, here’s an excellent piece outlining an approach to create great looking video: (via @edutopia)

Link to mic mentioned: Movo PM20 Dual-Headed Lavalier Lapel Clip-on:

Other resources for video creation: