Ertmer, A. 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. V. 12 p. 412-433.
Ertmer et al. (2007) start by discussing the important role student discussion plays in interactive online learning environments as many researchers believe it is in this discussion that “real” learning takes place because of the emphasis placed on dialogue. Many learning theorists indicate that instructional feedback as well plays a key role in learning as it confirms or challenges a learner’s existing beliefs. In an online environment, feedback is even more important as it has the ability to keep a student connected to the course; a lack of feedback is “often cited as the reason for withdrawing from online courses” (p.414). Peer feedback, as opposed to instructional feedback, can be helpful in that it is a timely way for students to get feedback and it gives students the opportunity to give feedback, which in itself can be a learning activity that promotes critical engagement on the issue and helps to develop a sense of collaboration. But there are challenges to using peer feedback as some students can feel anxiety about giving and receiving feedback and reliability of comments can also be questionable (p.415).
The purpose of Ertmer et al.’s study is to understand 1) the impact peer feedback has on the quality of postings 2) how student’s perceive value of peer feedback compared to instructor feedback 3) student’s perceptions of giving peer feedback.
To explore these questions, a case study approach was applied to a sample of graduate students (15; 10 female and 5 male) over a semester in an online technology integration course. Bloom’s taxonomy was used as a basis for defining feedback. Posts were given a score of 0-2; a score of zero would be given for a post of no substance whereas a score of 2 was earned by synthesizing information.
Overall, researchers found:
- Student postings can be of high quality, but here was little improvement of the course of the semester; student posts did not develop in quality as the semester went on. If there is no grading of additional posts, there is little motivation for posting added comments.
- Students tend to favor instructor feedback over peer feedback, but peer feedback did help students improve the development of their own feedback (cross-checking their learning).
- Students believed that the peer feedback process helped them to be more critical of their own responses.
Ertmer, et al. admit that this work was limited by the sample size, but I can’t help but think that this is also limited by the sample type. The researchers used graduate students who were very willing to take part in this process (self-motivated learners, if you will), but if the sample were undergraduate introduction to composition students, the results may have been very different.
This mixed methods approach to the research is incredibly significant as it emphasizes how important the giving of feedback in a timely manner by the instructor can be for the student, and peer feedback paired with instructor feedback has the ability to engage students through building community and discourse, challenge student perceptions of beliefs, and ask students to reflect on their own understanding of quality work. While the researchers end comments suggest that peer feedback can reduce an instructor’s workload, it does not seem this is true as students still value instructor interaction and need it to feel supported and encouraged. Without it, a student can become frustrated and may likely withdraw.