February 12, 2021

Good morning CNS Instructors,

I am ready for spring.  It is cold out there. For this week’s teaching tip, I looked up some articles addressing peer review of other students’ work requested by Nancy Levinger, Chemistry.  Peer review improves learning gains and can allow employment of writing and other types of assignments without overburdening the instructor.  I have interest in this topic for senior thesis and writing-to-learn assignments in my cell biology course.  I have provided links to several articles below:

Peer Review & Collaboration


While these are key to any writing process, and any writing class, our students often see them in very different ways than we do.  We strongly suggest Nancy Sommers’ “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers” (College Composition and Communication, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec 1980). It provides excellent insights into how students at first approach these tasks.  Some instructors assign it to their students to read and discuss in class. We include in this same section material on peer editing, which many of us consider an essential part of teaching writing.

Save Time, Add Value with these Teaching Time Savers by Richard Freishtat, PhD


As a new semester approaches and demands on your time grow exponentially as classes commence, it’s important to exert some sense of control over the chaos that ensues. The best way to do that is to utilize teaching time savers – 8 of which are highlighted here – that may not just save some time but add value to teaching and learning as well. Work smarter, not necessarily longer…

Time Saver 5. Share the responsibility of feedback with students. Another way to both save time and improve student learning is to engage student peers in giving one another feedback on work and performance in class. The planning takes time, but the execution can be a huge time saver if done well – through reduced amount of feedback you need to offer throughout the course, and through more polished final products submitted to you for review. We all know it’s a lot easier and quicker to grade and evaluate superior versus shoddy work. For an example of how to leverage sharing the responsibility, review the blog article “Peer Evaluation of Class Participation.”
Faculty Focus articles on student writing peer review:

Frame Your Feedback: Making Peer Review Work in Class by Christina Moore


We often hear that peer review is an excellent opportunity for reciprocal student learning. In theory, this makes sense. Since an instructor can only dedicate a certain amount of attention to each student, peer review allows students to receive more feedback and engage more frequently in the content they are learning. Research shows this benefits both the students who receive and provide feedback.

Preparing Students for Peer Review
Instruct students to include a brief memo of guidance with the work they would like others to review. The memo includes two components: a context paragraph and a list of questions.

When it is Time for Students to Review a Peer’s Work
  1. Give feedback based on the memo. Instruct student reviewers to direct their feedback to the memo’s points and then address two or three additional areas. The additional feedback allows reviewers to attend to areas of necessary revision that the student did not include in their memo. It also allows reviewers to express their questions and interests as peers.
  2. Provide clear actions and suggestions. Rather than simply stating “At some points, the flow doesn’t quite work. Look into this more carefully,” reviewers should identify examples and provide suggestions for how to revise these examples. This works as a form of peer teaching, a powerful learning strategy for the reviewer.

Moore also provides recommendations for revitalizing an existing peer review process.

Finding the Instructional Value in Peer Review Discussion Boards by Priscilla Hobbs and Evan Kropp


In their article on the effect of instructor participation in online discussion boards, Margaret Mazzolini and Sarah Maddison (2003) asked if, “online instructors [should] be encouraged to take a prominent ‘sage on the stage’ role, a more constructivist ‘guide on the side’ role, or an ultra-low profile as ‘the ghost in the wings’” when they are facilitating asynchronous discussion boards. Fifteen years later, we are still debating this same question.

Explain the value of the activity: Instructors should not assume that students see the value or understand the purpose of peer review activities.

Show students how to participate: Instructors should not assume that students already know how to effectively participate in peer review activities.

Keep students on track: Instructors should take an active role by monitoring and reviewing student participation.

Ensure students know what to do with the feedback they receive: Although the peer review activity itself has benefits (critical thinking, improving interpersonal skills, collaboration, etc.), students will have decisions to make regarding the feedback they receive.

Establishing a Writing Community in the College Classroom by Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar


Students’ beliefs in whether or not they can write may predict whether or not they will write.

When students enter with such negativity, is there any hope for creating a writing community in the college classroom? Can they trust the instructor and each other to provide a supportive environment as they learn to improve an area of perceived weakness? Absolutely. While I won’t invite parents or hand out stickers and cookies, I follow several practices that encourage my students as writers. Here are four ways to establish a writing community within the college classroom.

Informal Writing Assignments: Promoting Learning Through Writing by Maryellen Weimer


The Writing Across the Curriculum movement has successfully introduced faculty across disciplines to a variety of writing, including very informal writing that faculty do not necessarily read or grade. The advocacy for this kind of informal writing rests on the old premise that practice makes perfect—that as long as students are writing something, their writing will likely improve.

But informal writing garners benefits beyond this accidental improvement of writing skills. Writing promotes thinking—it clarifies ideas, generates reasons, and crystallizes arguments. A faculty team of sociologists decided to try to maximize that writing-thinking connection, saying, “To ensure that our students learn to write, we must do more than assign it; we must teach it with explicit purpose.” (p. 180). They wanted more than the accidental benefits derived whenever students are writing. Specifically, they aspired to create prompts for their students’ informal writing that would (1) make their expectations for students clearer and more specific; (2) be more useful and accurate; and (3) result in more thoughtful and effective analysis and arguments in other work students submitted.

Peer review on the Stanford Teaching Commons


Student-to-student communication is harder online, and peer review might be a way to have students get to know each other. Some tips:

  Write out clear and specific instructions about the expectations for peer review. This means specifying the qualities of writing that students may want to look for in each other’s work. Distributing guiding questions or a worksheet that students can fill out as they review their peer’s work can be a valuable supplement to guide students’ virtual reading.

  If you are introducing peer review synchronously (via Zoom or another teleconferencing platform) and having students work in real time in Google Docs, consider:

·       Engaging the students in a chat-based or video-based conversation about their expectations for peer review

·       Have students use the chat box feature to share ideas about what makes for effective peer review

·       Use a polling tool, like Poll Everywhere or Google Forms, to collect ideas about students’ impressions of and expectations for peer review

  If you are introducing peer review asynchronously, consider:

·       Opening up a discussion forum with a prompt that invites students to share their past experiences with peer review. What worked? What didn’t? What are their goals this time? Aggregate student responses to create a document that outlines the class expectations and understandings of effective peer review experiences.

·       Ask students to include questions for their peer reviewers at the top of their document so that their reviewers can have a sense of what the author would like them to focus on.

  Include links to technical documentation and support so that students can troubleshoot if they are not able to access peers’ documents.

·       How to share documents within Google Drive.

How to review documents within the Canvas Peer Review tool.

Supporting Student Mental Health and Well-Being

Gwen Gorzelsky, Ph.D. Executive Director, The Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) ask me to share this with you: In this time of increasing stress, and multiple challenges, faculty and staff are asking about ways to support student mental health and well-being.  Here are several ways to you can help:

·       Explore CSU’s Well-Being in Academic Environments Tool Kit, a web-based resource with easy to implement strategies for fostering well-being, while creating effective learning environments. Pick a few strategies you could integrate in your classroom or other academic settings.  The tool kit is a collaboration between CSU Health Network and university partners.  It is based on a successful initiative from the University of Texas Austin.

·        Consider including a reference to student mental health and well-being support resources on your syllabi using this standardized language:

“CSU is a community that cares. You are not alone. CSU Health Network Counseling Services has trained professionals who can help. Your student fees provide access to a wide range of support services. Call Counseling Services at (970) 491-6053, and they will work together with you to find out which services are right for you. Visit https://health.colostate.edu/about-counseling-services to learn more and https://health.colostate.edu/mental-health-resources/ for additional student mental health and well-being resources. If you are concerned about a friend or peer, use Tell Someone by calling (970) 491-1350 or visiting https://supportandsafety.colostate.edu/tell-someone/ to share your concerns with a professional who can discreetly connect the distressed individual with the proper resources. Rams Take Care of Rams. Reach out and ask for help if you or someone you know if having a difficult time.”

·       Become familiar with the student mental health and well-being support resources provided by the CSU Health Network designed to help students learn how to improve mental health, manage stress and minimize anxiety.  Promote in your circles and keep handy to refer, as situations and opportunities arise: https://health.colostate.edu/mental-health-resources/

Have a great Valentines Day!

Cheers, Paul

Paul Laybourn (he/him/his)
Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Director, W2R S-STEM Program
Director, NoCo B2B Program
Director, REU Site in Molecular Biosciences