Ertmer, P. A., Richardson, J. C., Belland, B., Camin, D., Connolly, P., Coulthard, G., et al. (2007). Using Peer Feedback to Enhance the Quality of Student Online Postings: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(2), 412-433. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00331.x
This study takes a look at the impact of peer feedback on students’ online postings to determine if this type of feedback is beneficial for increased learning. The article does a good job reviewing past literature on the topics of feedback in online environments, as well as the role feedback plays in instruction. The authors discuss the need for “effective discussion progress to include both reflection and critical thinking” (Ertmer, et al., 2007, p.413), and that feedback is beneficial in promoting this. Good feedback is stated as being meaningful, timely, and encouraging. Both teacher and peer feedback should stimulate higher order thinking. Peer feedback also supports community and social interactions in the online classroom. The authors present literature that experience deeper understanding through these interactions. Advantages and challenges in peer feedback are explored and discussed. Some of the key issues presented include timing and student anxiety. Incorporating peer feedback can slow the process in providing timely feedback as the method used in this study shows. Peer feedback was submitted to the instructor first for review and then passed on to the evaluated student. Student anxiety over grading others and the impact of their evaluation can be high and effect their work. Some students are noted to feel that they are not knowledgeable enough in the subject to provide meaningful feedback to peers. They also worry about their own grades being impacted by peer reviews from others.
The authors present the purpose of the study quite clearly, stating three research questions involving the impact of peer feedback on learning, and student perceptions of receiving and giving peer feedback as well as comparing the value of peer vs. instructor feedback. This was a case study using both descriptive and evaluative approaches. A group of fifteen graduate students in an online course were the participants. All were education majors and familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy. For the first six weeks of the course, feedback was only provided by instructors, modeling the appropriate form and explanation. After week five, students took a pre-survey on their perceptions of this feedback. Starting in week seven, and for the next six weeks, students provided peer feedback following the same form as previously presented by the instructors. This form used Bloom’s taxonomy to assess the level of critical thinking presented in discussion posts. These evaluations were sent to the instructor who then reviewed them, removed the evaluators name, and then sent it to the student who was rated. In week sixteen, the students took a post-survey similar to the pre-survey comparing their perceived value of instructor vs. peer feedback. Participants were also interviewed afterward to gain more insight into their feelings about peer feedback.
The data analysis from this study included comparing the scores on students’ posts prior to and after peer feedback. The authors triangulated these results with data from the surveys and interviews. A discussion of these results showed that at the end of the course, students’ perceptions of the value of feedback had increased. Pre- and post-surveys indicated that students’ perceived instructor feedback as preferred, noting that the instructor is more knowledgeable in the content. Students did however, find value in peer feedback and indicated that it helped them to improve their own work. Giving peer feedback was seen as equal in importance to receiving peer feedback. Some stated that they reflected on what they had said in feedback to peers when comprising their own posts. Overall, students found consistency and fairness to be a concern in both receiving and giving peer feedback. Many were reluctant to give low scores when evaluating a peer posting. As far as quantitative results from scoring on students’ posts, no significant improvement in quality was noted from before the peer feedback to after.
Limitations in this study are discussed, noting the small sample size and the duration was relatively short. Other issues are noted as well, including the fact that many of the discussion questions used “were not particularly conducive to high-level responses.” (Ertmer, et al., 2007, p.426) Given the limitations the authors present, they make a good argument for further research in this area with the increase of online learning environments.
As an online instructor, this study has made me reevaluate my discussion board practices. The literature review supports the importance of detailed, timely, and meaningful discussion feedback to enhance learning and deeper understanding. Although I’m not convinced of the best method for using peer feedback, I agree that the social interaction it provides in discussing the material is beneficial for both the evaluators and those being evaluated. The students’ perception of peer feedback is interesting to hear as well. The fact that they feel inadequately prepared to evaluate others helps to explain their hesitation in giving critical feedback. I was certainly pleased to hear that many however, considered their own feedback when composing their postings and were more attentive to the guidelines and rubrics to raise the level of critical thinking in their work.