Using Peer Feedback to Enhance the Quality of Student Online Postings: An Exploratory Study

  • Ertmer, P. A., Richardson, J. C., Belland, B., Camin, D., Connolly, P., Coulthard, G., Lei, K., Mong, C. (2007). Using Peer Feedback to Enhance the Quality of Student Online Postings: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication: JCMC12(2), 412–433.

This is an exploratory study that has been designed around the premise that  “Student discussion has been identified as a key component of interactive online learning environments; both instructors and researchers agree that this is where the ‘‘real’’ learning takes place.” The study was performed to determine if using peer feedback in an online course leads to the improvement of the quality of online discussion. The students used Bloom’s Taxonomy to score the postings based on on-line questions. This also highlighted the importance that students place on feedback based on timely, consistent quality of responses vs quantity of responses.

According to Black (2005), “ most online discussions consist of sharing and comparing information, with little evidence of critical analysis or higher-order thinking.” The authors tried to prove that “peer feedback was used as a means to promote these higher levels of thinking. ” The feedback students gave was not in a form to promote higher level thinking but was performed using a grading scale. While there is little evidence showing the students learned from their peer feedback, the students believed that their giving and receiving of feedback was productive. This perception by the students gives the study worth.

The study was designed well and did analyze the effect of peer feedback on student responses. The problem is that it was more focused on perceived benefits rather than actual. The study stated, “The use of peer feedback in an online learning environment offers a number of distinct advantages including increasing the timeliness of feedback, providing new learning opportunities for both givers and receivers of feedback, humanizing the environment, and building community (Corgan, Hammer, Margolies, & Crossley, 2004).” But this was not actually determined, merely stated. The actual study could have been better designed to evaluate these stated advantages. Instead, it only focused on the student’s perception, claiming that was enough.

The study attempted to answer three questions:

RQ1: What is the impact of peer feedback on the quality of students’ postings in an online environment? Can the quality of discourse/learning be maintained and/or increased through the use of peer feedback?

RQ2: What are students’ perceptions of the value of receiving peer feedback? How do these perceptions compare to the perceived value of receiving instructor feedback?

RQ3: What are students’ perceptions of the value of giving peer feedback?

The study addressed each of these but not to the extent that they could have. They are designed to focus primarily on the student’s perceptions about giving and receiving feedback. The questions do not provide a focus on higher quality discussions. The students were more focused on the grades rather than higher-order thinking.

The rubric the students used was based on Bloom’s Taxonomy and asked the students to use higher-order thinking skills but the discussion questions did not ask the students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate in the first place. The questions were not designed for the students to properly answer since the questions didn’t ask, to begin with. Grading based on the provided rubric also would hinder the student’s discussion. They were not asked to provide answers that promoted higher-order thinking. By grading every response the focus becomes getting the grade, not thinking on a higher level.

I am at an impasse concerning this study. I agree with what they proposed to study but disagree with the first question they posed (but did not sufficiently answer). Perception of how helpful something is matters a great deal to students (myself included). The perception of how important, how helpful peer feedback is, can be a very strong factor to students. This itself can be studied and ways to improve student learning through perception is important. The actual goal of promoting higher-order thinking can be something completely different. Causing higher-order thinking must happen before any student can evaluate how important it is. Providing grades to responses only promotes adjustments on the students’ part to get better grades. Whether they are using higher-order thinking becomes an afterthought. To raise the quality of students postings, active discussion about what they posted and why they think that way seems more important.

The study should have been better titled and the questions posed should have matched the study more closely. Can peer feedback increase or enhance student responses? Yes, absolutely. Does peer feedback promote higher-order thinking? This study does not actually attempt to answer that question.


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