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Using formative peer feedback to build engagement with research

Professor Martin Oliver explains how students taking an online module are supported in developing their capacity to engage with published research in a critical way.

Professor Martin Oliver

12 August 2015

They generate a summary and critical commentary, share this with peers and then peers provide formative feedback so that criticality can be developed.

Engaging with published research to develop critical skills

Students engage in a series of tasks across a module to develop their capacity to engage with published research in a critical manner.

This helps create an ‘entry point’ to Masters-level writing, part of a throughline that leads to extended literature work and eventually to the dissertation.

The context is a Masters-level course, the MA in Education and Technology, which draws students who have professional as well as academic backgrounds. The module is taught entirely online, although this approach could easily be modified to work in campus-based teaching.

A structured approach

Each week, a short reading list is provided of published work relating to the current topic.

Students choose a reading with relevance to their professional work and/or personal interests, write a summary, and share this with the rest of the cohort.

In this first week, the module tutors provide brief feedback, to model this process to the cohort.

Students are encouraged to develop criticality – questioning concepts, contextualising the reading (e.g. in relation to wider reading or their own professional experience), questioning methodology, and interrogating the strength of the argument made.

In the second week, students choose a new reading and post a new summary.

They are also required to provide feedback to another student (who hasn’t yet received feedback) on their summary.

This has two benefits:

  • firstly, each student receives more feedback than would be possible by relying on the tutors alone; and
  • secondly, giving feedback helps the giver to understand the assessment criteria and reflect on the quality of their own work.

In this second week, the tutors give brief commentary on how well this feedback has been given.

From the third week onwards, students summarise and give feedback without additional tutor input.

This means that the workload for tutors on the module is front-loaded, but helps create a culture of peer support throughout the module, and helps students to think of their writing as being for peers as well as their tutors.

By the end of the module, students submit one short (1,000 word) critical review as part of their assessed work.

The rubric is that no more than 250 words should be summary, with 750 words of critical commentary. It is assessed using the same criteria and descriptors as Masters-level essays