CTL Featured Assignment Overview
Name & number of course: Cultivating Change ANT/ES 450
Name of assignment: Peer Review
Class size: Seminar (16)
Last time class was taught & when it will be taught again: Fall 2013; Spring 2015
Learning goals of the assignment & briefly how they relate to the goals of the course:
The main learning goal of the assignment was to give students experience with peer review in the double sense of 1) crafting constructive assessment of another’s work and 2) utilizing such feedback to improve one’s own work. Because both activities were undertaken by teams of four, the exercise promoted skills of collaboration in the context of hands-on research on beginning farmers in New London County.
Description of the assignment (e.g., when you give the assignment, if you scaffold the assignment):
First, I offer some background to put the assignment in perspective. In ANT 450 (see Syllabus Anthropology 450) students are divided into teams of four and tasked with engaging in research on local beginning farmers; they modify our standard (class) questionnaire, visit farms, conduct interviews, compile data (visual, audio, etc.), conduct background research, engage in analysis of the materials, write a report (draft and final), and make an in-class presentation.
I set up a Google Drive folder for each team, which served as a basket for team audio and visual files, background research, interview transcriptions and notes, draft a final report, and end-of-semester presentation.
The peer review assignment comes late in the semester, just after teams have submitted their draft reports. Since there were four teams, I had pairs swap papers (team 1 read team 2’s paper, 2 read 1’s, etc.). The teams had about a week to formulate their critique of another paper; after I reviewed the critiques, I uploaded them to the relevant Google Drive folder along with my own commentary. I then met with each team for 30-40 minutes (classes had ended at this point in the semester) to discuss their experience of the peer review process as well as their plans to prepare the final version of their report. To ensure a productive learning experience for all participants, I carefully explained the rationale for the exercise and spelled out the content of a thorough peer review.
What you like about the assignment & why you think it is effective:
Students applied themselves seriously to this task and produced detailed and constructive commentary — indeed, far more than I had requested (see Example of Peer Review). As I had hoped, students appreciated feedback (no matter how constructive!) from peers at the same time that they reported gaining insight into their own work by the very act of serving as peer reviewers.
Several mentioned that this was the first time they had engaged in peer review and that they wished to have more opportunities for such activity. The final reports (30-50+ pages) demonstrated significant improvement over the drafts to such an extent that I am exploring other courses in which to implement the process.
I suspect the assignment succeeded for some combination of the following: students felt comfortable working in teams by the time of the assignment; the assignment clearly described the why, what, and how of the exercise; the assignment’s first question started the critique off on a constructive note; I paired strong and weak drafts such that the teams with the weaker papers benefited from reading a very strong effort; students might harbor a particular desire to demonstrate competency to peers, in this case in carefully crafted peer reviews; and, a sense of pride and ownership in their projects compelled students to incorporate critique from peer review (and me) into significantly reworked final reports.