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Some thoughts on Peer Review part 1 – English 328: Writing, Style, & Technology
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Some thoughts on Peer Review part 1

I’ve been reading through your blogs last night and this morning, especially about the peer review process.  Let me mention as an aside about the blog writing assignments:  the most important part of them is that you complete them on time.  And remember: your blog posts have a time stamp to them.  The second (and third, I suppose) most important parts of them are issues of quantity and quality.  You don’t have to write long posts, but they should also typically be longer than a couple of sentences.  And, as is the case with most things in life, more thoughtful comments and posts are recommended.

In any event, some more quotes and the like after the “continued” part, but I wanted to address one issue I thought was kind of interesting:  a number of you expressed being peer review “haters.”  I think that’s kind of an odd sentiment especially since all of you must be interested in writing, and I say that because it’s the only reason you would take English 328.  After all, you are all either minoring or majoring in Written Communication, Writing, Language Literature and Writing for Teachers, Journalism, PR, or some other flavor of “English.”  So it would seem to me that most students who are majoring in these things are really interested in learning more/studying more about their own writing and the writing of classmates, which is one of the points of peer review.

In any event, my hope is that some of what we try this semester helps reduce the hate a little.  Like I said, more after continued:

Here are a few quotes from different students’ blogs and a few comments about them:

After using google docs, I realized how I am uncomfortable with posting my writing on the web. In a previous class, we used word to do peer reviews, and “tracked changes” instead of making comments; I felt that worked a little better. I did find working in groups more productive than just choosing someone to review, instead of getting one review, we got three. I would like it if the groups got mashed up next time, maybe all the mean reviewers could be in the same group!

There were others that liked Google docs though, too.  I have you all using Google docs for this project for several reasons.  First, part of the mission of the class is to introduce all of you to new tools and technologies, and Google docs is a very handy one for writers.  Second, it allows a group of people to make comments on the same essay, which is something that you can’t do with track changes in MS Word.  That’s useful for peer review since if one person makes a comment about something, there’s an opportunity for others to build off of that comment.  And third, Google docs does a really good job of tracing revision by showing the history, which is very useful for me as a teacher.

As for posting it on the web:  keep in mind that you’re only sharing links with each other on emuonline.  So basically, it’s sort of like giving someone your phone number:  in theory, someone you don’t intend might come across it, but in practice, probably not.

Oh, and we will try a variety of different things with peer review this term– different groups, different instructions, etc.  You’ll see.

Another quote:

There is only one real problem I had with the review process. I asked two very explicit questions on the EMUonline thread about my paper, but neither question was answered explicitly. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the comments and suggestions I received from my peers, but not getting answers to those two questions (at least in a direct and outright manner) really upset me. I tried to cover all the bases for the two peers I reviewed for, but who knows, I may not have said what they wanted either. I may have even pissed them off. I am blunt in my opinions, and don’t tend to hold back, so I told them what I meant, where I meant it.

I think there are a couple of things that have to happen to make peer review “work” in the most general sense.  First, I think that reviewers ought to answer questions brought up by writers.  So I think that this person has a right to be at least disappointed in having not received an answer.  Second, I think everyone deserves to receive advice that is useful. I often think that students give feedback along the lines of “it’s perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing” because they don’t want to offend anyone.  But I also am pretty sure that students give that sort of advice because, well, it’s the easy (lazy?) thing to do.

All I would suggest here is that you approach peer review with the golden rule in mind:  do onto others as you would have them do onto you.  So if you want to receive useful and insightful feedback that will make your writing better (and who wouldn’t want that?), then you have to give useful and insightful feedback.

Another quote:

In general group work does not appeal to me.  I cringe almost every time I see task “group work”.  One reason is scheduling.  Trying to work with one another on a particular task in a particular time frame is challenging.  Meaning one or two people is on top of the work load while the others lag behind for whatever reason.  Point two is the lack of effort on some group members.  There is always that one group member who does not contribute to their fullest potential.

This person is not alone:  I think that most students dislike group work, and often for the reasons this student gives– scheduling problems and people in the group who don’t pull their weight.  But let me gently suggest three things about group work, at least for our purposes.  First, writing is a social activity and one that always involves groups, even if it is just another reader.  So to teach and practice writing as a singular activity just doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Second, people in the “real world” work in groups, and this is especially true in fields like professional writing and teaching.  So one of the reasons we’re doing stuff in groups is because it’s a learning experience, so to speak.  And third, I do give grades for participation based (in part) how I see you interacting within groups.  So folks who don’t do all that they should do to participate (0r who don’t participate at all) will have a lower grade on this.

One last quote:

 I was a little nervous about doing it in this format, however, because I have not met my classmates in real life. (At least, not that I am aware of). If I know a person in real life, I can gauge their reactions and customize my critique so that it can be effective but not offensive. I would hate to upset someone, particularly a stranger, with a harsh critique of their work.

It is true you don’t want to make folks mad (though as I mention above, the opposite is usually more the problem), and doing this online has some challenges.  That said, I think that there are advantages to doing this online, too.  For one thing, the writing really has to “stand” on its own:  if it isn’t clear to the reader, the writer is not there in person to literally say “what I meant was…”.  Also, there are some ways we will be experimenting with some of this throughout the term, and that might include doing some “video chat/video conference” sorts of things so you can actually see and hear people in the class.  But more on that later….


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