Strengthen Peer Review by Promoting the Lens of Design

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Peer review has the potential to be an effective activity for students to engage in, for several reasons. Students do not rely on the sole voice of the instructor, who is an expert in the matter. Peers may be able to communicate with other peers in a way that is difficult for the instructor. Also, if the class is large, it may be impossible for the instructor to give each and every student the meaningful feedback that they deserve. However, peer review is not always perceived as effective by students. Providing effective feedback to others about their work is not a natural skill, and some may be concerned about coming across as too critical. Some strategies have been found to support peer review, such as having the peers practice reviewing works in a whole class setting; works that were not produced by members of the class.  Another strategy is to provide students with a common language in which to communicate their feedback.

Link to example artifact(s)

Instructors: John Gonzalez, Lorna Gonzalez
Course: Environmental Science (blended)

Toward the end of the course, students are asked to conduct a small research investigation into an Environmental Science issue (e.g., deforestation, water shortages, etc.). Mid-way through their data collection, we introduce the unfamiliar genre of infographics, which we teach through a series of examples and exercises that ask students to “read like a writer” (Bunn, 2011). Once students have collected enough data to begin to draft infographics of their own, we conduct technical workshops on the digital tools needed to organize data and represent it visually on a canvas. During the drafting phase, we also teach them principles of design: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity (Williams, 2015). As a class, we practice evaluating science infographics through the lens of design in order to model and practice the discourse they will use in their own discussions. 

Students post their infographic drafts (Figure 1) to an online discussion forum and then provide feedback to their peers, using the language of design. That is, they compliment the work or make suggestions for revision using the language of Contrast, Repetition, etc. in one or more rounds of peer review. This feedback is effective for practicing disciplinary literacy skills, providing constructive feedback, and developing genre awareness in science disciplines.

This strategy–that of teaching students a theory, concept, etc., that is then used as a lens for providing feedback to peers–has been replicated and adopted in many of our other blended and online classes, including postsecondary and graduate level. We have found the feedback that students give and receive to be far more meaningful, both to the communication of science and to the infographic design, than traditional open-ended peer review processes (Figure 2).

Early iterations of this technique were completed on a group page created for each class, but later applications used our campus LMS (Canvas) and the discussion board feature housed there. We intend to test this technique using VoiceThread or Padlet, as well. Students will then be able to upload their draft infographics into a class or group VoiceThread or Padlet and then provide video/audio/text feedback in a more humanized, interactive way. 

Infographic with statistics about deforestation
Figure 1: Infographic example: Deforestation
Example of peer feedback
Figure 2: Examples of peer feedback yielded from activity.

Link to scholarly reference(s)

Bunn, M. (2011). How to read like a writer. In C. Lowe & P. Zemliansky (Eds.), Writing spaces: Readings on writing (Vol. 2, pp. 71-86). Anderson, SC: Parlor Press. Accessed from–how-to-read.pdf

Williams, R. (2015). The non-designer’s design book (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Peachpit Press.


Gonzalez, L., & Gonzalez, J. (2019). Strengthen peer review by promoting the lens of design. In A. deNoyelles, A. Albrecht, S. Bauer, & S. Wyatt (Eds.), Teaching online pedagogical repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.

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