Sep 4, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

In online classes, you often have to review your peers’ work.  Why?  You’re forced to interact with your peers online, you gain a fresh perspective with your online classmates, and—most importantly—you’ll probably learn something.

Here’s an example: if you’ve ever taken a writing class, you know that peer review is probably one of the most helpful ways to learn how to improve your writing.  How?  By critiquing others’ work.  The same applies online; and it works in a similar way.

It’s not just writing, either.  Peer review can apply to just about any discipline, in-person or online.  Let’s take a closer look at some strategies for peer review in online courses.

 

1. Prepare

Get your ducks in a row.   When you receive your classmate’s work, ask specifically to know the nature of the assignment (if you don’t already), and the major point they’re trying to make.  Also ask what the thesis—or main idea—is.  Try to understand what your classmate wants to achieve in the paper.

Read your classmate’s work with these broad strokes in mind.  If the assignment is divided into sections, react to each one individually, then assess how they tie together.

If necessary, write a question or problem list of issues that you find confusing to address later.

2. Be honest

Peer review is pointless if you’re not working with honest feedback.  Be serious, give real feedback, and don’t insult your classmates.

Remember: you’re not in this to pat someone on the back or make someone feel awful.   You’re in this for your partner to learn—and hopefully you’ll learn something, too.

You shouldn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.  If you need, go back to step #1 and prepare ways to share feedback that may not necessarily be positive.  Also: see #3.

 

3. Use feedback forms

Many online courses offer checklist and feedback forms on which  you can offer brief comments (see #4).

The nice thing about forms?  They typically ask objective questions about the basic sections of the paper, the thesis, and the structure of each paragraph.  You’ll answer questions about sources and references, and check for grammar, spelling, and style.

4. Make comments

Comments are key.  Why?  They give you and the writer insight into the work.  It’s easy, too.  Use “track changes” to insert comments.  Other students can also add comments, depending on the process your instructor uses. 

Google docs offers another easy alternative for commenting.  Talk to your instructor ahead of time and find out which system you’re using.

What should you say?  See #5.

 

5. Give positive and critical feedback

This is where that honesty (see #2) comes in handy.  Write what your partner describes as his or her main idea at the top of the paper.

Issues of clarity, engagement, grammar, and spelling are easy “yes” or “no” comments or on a checklist (see #4).

When you give feedback say why something works or doesn’t work.  For example: “This paragraph confuses me because…” or “Your description of x illustrates this point clearly be

Bottom line?  Always give examples in your feedback of what works and what doesn’t. 

If a paper that you peer review is particularly problematic, ask your professor for help.

A quick note on receiving your peer-reviewed work: assume that your peer put significant work into the responses and take them seriously.  If it’s obvious that your classmate didn’t take your work seriously, go to your professor and ask for another review.

You don’t have to take every suggestion, but you should read through all the comments and review the checklist. 

If you have follow-up questions, arrange a meeting time, or discuss over email.

Bottom line?  Don’t get defensive—after all, it’s all part of your learning experience.

 

 

 

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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