Saturday, January 31, 2015

Peer review in OWI: Slowing it down

I’ve written here before (but how time flies since 2008 and even 2012!) about how peer review and OWI intersect so well. I keep returning to this topic, because, for so many of us who teach writing, peer review is the thing: a central part of writing instruction.

Simply put, going online accentuates and highlights that centrality. If you teach an online writing course (OWC) asynchronously, the whole class becomes a peer review. It becomes a workshop, sometimes a cauldron, in which students' ideas come under close examination. Students can continually push each other through a textual dialogue that they, even they, the children of the electronic age they are, are unaccustomed to.

In a way that some may find paradoxical to critics of digitality, an OWC works so well in this way because it is a uniquely slowed-down course experience. Students get to think. They interact with each other in a naturally contemplative environment, one that by its nature does not reward the quickest hand or the sharpest tongue.

For many teachers in any medium, that’s what good peer review is all about. It's not about shuffling papers around a room and asking students to give each other brief comments (leading, too often, to "All you need to is __ and you'll get an A!"). It's about providing students with time, even a few structured minutes, to delve into each others' thoughts made manifest through writing.

I haven't taken video of students working on written discussions in my courses (although, at CCCC 2014 I saw a fascinating presentation by Patricia Portanova of the University of New Hampshire; she used screencasts to investigate how writers are affected by distraction). But it would be interesting to compare students' cognitive and perhaps physical behaviors when responding to a colleague's post to the behaviors when they provide face-to-face responses in a classroom. How much thinking is going on in each situation?

Online, during the routine written conversations they have, students critique each other in detailed, complex ways. They push each other to think and elucidate ideas. They often are complimentary in authentic ways to writing that moves and impresses them. Without the confines of the class space, they can slow down and really think about the piece of writing.

As I've mentioned before, this dynamic can become transparent in an asynchronous OWC. If you are building a dialogue, then all postings become a kind of peer review: Here’s what I have to say about the writing you put before me. Based on my response, you can tell if I thought it was clear, if I thought it was powerful, where I thought it might need more elaboration or even evidence.

My students push each other hundreds of times in this way in the course. I believe it tightens their writing in ways I could never do alone.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Anonymous Jennifer M. Love said...

Hi Scott,

It's great to have discovered your blog! I'm an instructor of online writing courses at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. I absolutely love teaching writing online and am thrilled by how effective OWCs are in helping students become stronger and more confident writers. It's terrific to see that you and others you mention in your posts, e.g., Beth Hewett, are emphasizing this incredible effectiveness in your scholarly work.

I enjoyed reading your thoughts about how online writing courses benefit students in peer review situations by allowing them to "slow down" and comment holistically on each other's work. I'd tended to think of my online classes as being inviting of all that is instantaneous. Your post helps me realize that OWCs could instead be seen as invitations to students (and instructors) to take their time with each text, whether a discussion post or an essay. And as a slow thinker and writer, and a cautious yet enthusiastic responder, I'm seeing more reasons now for my love of teaching online.

I also really like your method in the peer review sessions of having students account for previous students' comments in their own remarks on the draft. That's a great way to help students recognize the embedded nature of multi-reader responding. Students in my writing classes get paired up (by me) for their peer responses. I can see now that if I used groups of three or more students, there would be more opportunity for complex, responsive peer responding.

Definitely!: Online writing courses are an "ongoing peer review"! This is a fantastic aspect of teaching online that seems like something that can't be praised enough and seems to allow students to write better almost without instructor intervention. I feel like if the "all peer review, all the time" aspect of online writing courses were more widely known, almost every writing instructor (at least those trained in student-centered instruction—which is basically everyone these days) would want to teach online!

Thanks for all that you've done to help make the benefits of online writing instruction more widely known. I am excited to join in this important conversation and look forward to reading more of your work and that of others writing about OWI!

Jennifer M. Love

3:57 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home