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Peer-to-peer feedback with Google Docs

Subject: English. Course title: Research Skills and Academic Methods (RSAM). Level: BA 1st semester. Course size: 4 x 30.

Motivation for the activity

The goals of this project were to implement a peer e-feedback component into the first-year courses. In addition to improving student writing in academic English, we also sought to strengthen student learning groups by incorporating them directly into the curriculum.

Central learning outcomes for the activity

According to process-oriented approaches to academic writing, students acquire composition skills through the process of receiving and responding to feedback on their written drafts.

However, responding to only professor feedback puts too much burden on professors and does not encourage the students to develop their own evaluative skills. So, having the opportunity to both give and receive peer feedback is a valuable step in the learning process toward acquiring academic writing skills. 

Description of the activity

Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media provides training in Google Docs during all four class sections of the Research Skills and Academic Methods course

  1. The students are taught how to give appropriate feedback. See Studypedia for more information on student peer feedback.
  2. Each study group create a folder in Google Docs: Click on the red “Create” button in the upper left corner, then choose “Folder” from the drop-down menu
  3. Make sure each group shares its folder with the professor, with “Can edit” capability: Click on the box next to the newly created folder to select it, then click on the “Share” button in upper banner (icon of person and + symbol)
  4. As each student paper/document is created, it should be saved within an assignment folder, which is saved within the group folder
  5. To provide written peer e-feedback, group members need to share their Gmail account info with one another, and then give each other “Comment” access to the shared assignment folder and to each doc added to it
  6. In the “Notification settings” link visible after clicking the “Comments” button, only enable notifications AFTER the peer feedback is completed so that the professor is not overwhelmed with comment notifications in his/her Gmail account as students make comments
  7. The professor can then consolidate all the group folders into one class folder, by creating this new folder, clicking on “Shared with me”, selecting all the group folders to move into the single class folder, then dragging and dropping them into the class-folder.

Outcome of the activity

All of the course teachers felt that the peer feedback contributed positively to the students' writing abilities as well as their abilities at giving each other feedback. The teachers also found the possibility of monitoring the quality of students' peer-to-peer feedback a pedagogically rewarding addition to the writing exercise.

During the first year of university coursework, students are struggling to learn the requirements and conventions expected in academic English. Learning to provide and respond to written peer feedback gives them further support and practice with academic writing standards in their second language. Moreover, they practice these skills in the company of their learning groups, which allows them to ask questions and make mistakes in a safe and supportive context

In the student evaluations, many mentioned the peer feedback activity as helping them to understand what teachers were looking for in their papers, and for giving them a chance to revise before handing in the final draft of their papers.

Reflections on the activity

Training and preparation cannot be emphasized enough! A tutorial in setting up and using Google Docs is a good idea (both for students and professors alike).

Second, training students in giving appropriate feedback was also crucial, because they are not professors and cannot give the same type of feedback. However, they can still be constructive and positive, without offering vague compliments that aren't particularly useful or being too harsh (and inaccurate) in their assessment of another student's grammar.

Arts Media Lab

Arts Media Lab offers technological feedback, advice about educational it, and courses and workshops for teachers at Arts. More about Arts Media Lab (the text is in Danish). 



Jocelyn Hardman. The Ohio State University, Department of Teaching and Learning.