Facilitating Digital Peer Review

There are a lot of different wasy to facilitate peer review and the ubiquity of online commenting and composing tools gives users yet another option for conducting peer review work. Asking students to conduct peer review on hard paper copies is one of the most common ways of encouraging students to do peer review, but a number of digital tools can make the peer review process more streamlined.

This article will lay out some of the options for conducting peer review digitally, weighing the pros and cons of each approach.

Why Conduct Peer Review Digitally?

  • Accessibility. When peer review is conducted via paper, it does not allow students the flexibility to re-size font sizes or colors; the document is static. When conducting peer review digitally, students have more options for viewing documents in ways that may better suit their ways of thinking and reading. Further, not all students can read each other's handwriting effectively; typed text is clearer and easier for other students to read and process. Because increasing numbers of students also type and write digitally on a regular basis, it is also physically less demanding for many students to write extensive comments in typed text rather than via handwriting.
  • Room for extensive feedback. When students are constrained to a limited space, they may not feel incentivized to offer clear, extensive, and legible feedback. Digital spaces gives students a lot of room to unpack comments.
  • Ease of archiving exchanges. It can be easy for students and instructors alike to lose pieces of paper! Archiving peer review work digitally allows everyone to maintain a clear paper trail of feedback given and received so it's easy to see which comments to which students chose to respond.
  • Promoting digital literacy. The more experience that students have offering feedback in digital spaces, the more comfortable they'll become if, in future school or work contexts, they are asked to give feedback in a digital space.

Available Tools for Facilitating Digital Peer Review

Canvas

Description: The peer review tool in Canvas, our campus' learning management system, allows students to comment on their peers' papers, give marginal feedback, give summative comments, and complete rubrics. The instructor sets up the Canvas peer review tool via Assignments (see the Canvas Help Center guide for more information on how to create a peer review assignment) and then assigns students into groups to allow students to view work submitted to Canvas assignments. Once a studnet has been assigned to read their peers' papers, they use Canvas' PDF editing tool to give comments on the paper itself. They will also be able to add comments via a comments box on the side bar. If an instructor wants a student to fill out a specific rubric, the instructor can attach a rubric to the assignment, which students can fill out, or the instructor can create a rubric within Canvas' Outcomes tool.

Advantages to Using Canvas: Using one centralized tool for managing class activities is generally a best practice in digital teaching and learning. Students tend to prefer going to one place to find all of their class activities. Canvas' tool also includes robust commenting features that allow students to highlight, underline, and comment on features of their peers' texts. By using Canvas, students can also find their students' peer review comments more easily so that all of their drafts are in one unified place. Canvas' interface also makes it easy for students to exchange papers without running the risk of errors.

Disadvantages to Using Canvas: In Canvas, students can only engage in a one-to-one exchange; within a peer review group, students cannot see their peers' comments on different papers. Rather, they can also see the comments they give and the comments that they receive. Therefore, if instructors want students to work as a full group - commenting on each other's comments - then Canvas will not be the right tool to faciltiate that process. In addition, on the instructor end, setting up peer review can feel a little confusing since it has to be done through the Assignments feature.

Google Docs

Description: Google Docs is a collaborative writing platform where students can comment on each other's work online. Google Docs has largely the same functionality as a word processor, but with the advantages of allowing students to work on documents collaboratively in real time. With rigorous version control tools that allow students to track revisions by different users over time, Google Docs allows students to quickly see how their paper is getting revised by their peers. Students can offer both comments in the margins and offer a marginal end note. While no rubric tool is built into Google Docs, instructors can create a separate document for students to complete a required rubric.

Advantages to using Google Docs: Google Docs offers users a lot of flexibility for commenting on student work and is the most collaborative tool available since it allows users to see each other's comments and work together in real time. Google Docs' commenting tools are also quite robust; students can make a variety of changes. Plus, Stanford students all have access to a Google Drive account, so it is likely that students use Google Docs in other class contexts and may have some familiarity with how the tool works already, eliminating the need to offer much technical orientation.

Disadvantages to using Google Docs: The privacy and visibility settings in Google Docs can be confusing to students; they will need to make sure that they've shared their docs in a way that will allow peer reviewers both to see and edit the document. Further, as a third party tool, students will need to navigate outside of the course management system to access it. Google Docs' comments can also be challenging to download since the format of the documents is meant to be viewed on the screen.

Microsoft Word

Description: Microsoft Word is one of the most popular word processing tools for writers to use and it offers robust commenting tools. For example, students can write comments in the margin of the paper or write summative comments at the end of the paper. Microsoft Word is not a free program, but with their Stanford accounts, students can install the Microsoft Office suite for free.

Advantages to using Microsoft Word: The Microsoft word interface is basically a digitized version of a hard copy, so it has the advantages of looking visually familiar to students who are accustomed to printed peer review. The commenting tools are clear and will help students easily archive and keep trakc of comments and changes to their essays.

Disadvantages to using Microsoft Word: Like Canvas, Microsoft Word mostly facilitates one-to-one exchanges. While students could send each other versions of their papers with peers' comments, this process can be a bit cumbersome because it requires that students upload new versions of their documents every time that another person contributes to the conversation. Further, Microsoft Word documents can be easy to lose track of precisely because they are not stored in the cloud and cannot be commented on in real time.