Ertmer, P. A., Richardson, J. C., Belland, B., Camin, D., Connolly, P., Coulthard, G., Mong, C. (2007). Using Peer Feedback to Enhance the Quality of Student Online Postings: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(2), 412-433. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00331.x
The Ertmer article studies how using peer feedback as an instructional strategy may increase quality postings. Feedback in threaded discussions of online courses is essential for enabling students to self-regulate their performance, confirm prior knowledge and improve cognitive engagement. Feedback, to be effective, should not be absent, must be of high quality and timely and since students in online courses do not experience the physical interaction in onsite classes, they may struggle to feel social connections to classmates in the virtual environments. Students can both give and receive peer feedback which goes a long way to personalize interactions since students must use critical thinking to analyze other works, then absorb and process criticism from the other students. By prescribing an expected response, whereas the latter opens up common experience dialogical interaction. The student-to-student interaction is more socially oriented and involved co-construction of knowledge. This provides more of a group oriented factor to threaded discussions, which are decidedly asynchronous communicative instruments. However, by adding a peer-collaborative factor, it adds another valuable dimension to the activity and may help with cognitive processing of the content. Peer feedback can have drawbacks in that students may become anxious about giving and receiving feedback, concerned about the reliability of the feedback. In addition, students may not be prepared or be comfortable to take on the role of an evaluator.
Discussion postings form an important basis for communication in online courses and can be judged on both quantity and quality. To be most valuable, they must be interactive, rather than just having all students respond to the question with an “answer.” Peer interaction in online courses serves to provide an important interpersonal and gives the students motivation to check and recheck their work since their peers are watching and assessing, and also builds a sense of community and trust. The real learning is adjusting one’s perspective to view how others respond to the question, then responding to the response. This discourse leads to deep learning since it drills down to new territory of the topic. Peer feedback also has the effect of offloading some of the workload from the instructor, by transferring the task of reviewing content to students. The article emphasized how providing feedback is one of the most time-consuming elements of teaching online, so sharing the responsibility with students has a twofold benefit: 1) reduction of workload for teachers, and more importantly, 2) giving students opportunities to synthesize information at a high level, emulating the teacher role. When a student gives peer assessments, it opens up dialogue, the recipient is given insight into their own learning. Online courses rely on quality design and interaction to be rich and valuable, but it cannot all be planned, so the discussion thread provides a dynamic aspect to the course. Therefore, feedback in all forms is essential to make the course compelling, keep students engaged, accelerating and amplifying learning. Students are used to getting feedback from instructors, but when getting it from peers, then it layers the learning by having a non-expert examine responses, allows sharing of ideas, diverse perspectives, and leads to a more collaborative learning environment rather than a patriarchal model.
Researchers can use the feedback loop and process to analyze the effectiveness of the communal nature of meaningful student interaction. The feedback process gives value not only to the recipient, but also to the provider. By emulating and modeling a teacher behavior, the provider takes on the role of teacher and receives a distinct learning opportunity, and hence, gains greater insight into the course objectives while providing feedback. The article utilized a sound researching approach to peer feedback, and provided a great deal of results data to help judge the effectiveness of the feedback, however, it acknowledged that there are logistical problems with providing feedback and collecting information to assess its effectiveness. For example, comments included “My impressions are that it is very beneficial to learning. Peers are more often on the same level and may be able to explain things in a manner that makes more sense than the instructor.” The qualitative analysis of responses to a teacher versus a student is different can provide valuable insight for the researcher. In this study, the students were asked several research questions, which addressed postings in online courses, quality of interaction, and perceptions from both students and faculty on the value of giving peer feedback. The study applied Bloom’s Taxonomy to ensure the quality of the data collection. The study also used multiple techniques such as multiple interviewers, and standardized interview protocol in order to reduce bias. They also incorporated some of their own techniques in order to ensure high quality of the data. They concluded that quality peer feedback has many benefits, but was not as important as instructor feedback. The students got to know each other better, share opinions, but may have been concerned that the actual instructor was not providing feedback.