Discount Peer Response

Posted: December 4, 2007 in Discount Peer Response, iteration, Pedagogy, Usability

My paper is really coming together. I need to move a few things around, but the essence of it is pretty solid. As I worked through it last weekend, I found that discount peer response just makes sense. I’m kind of amazed no one has ever written about this before. Of course, probably someone has; I just haven’t found it.

There’s a bit of parallel I still need to finalize, but the two (user testing and peer response) map so well onto each other that I’m frankly somewhat amazed.

Today in class I did an informal survey that helped me feel more confident about my findings. All semester, I have allowed students to perform a discount peer response on their papers for extra credit. If they took the papers to someone else and had that someone respond to the paper, then created a new draft based on the response, they gained two extra points. They could do this up to three times per semester. As I intended, those who did this generally didn’t need the extra credit (as a paper written in five drafts will invariably get a better grade than one written in two).

What I asked them today was, of those who did the peer response outside of class, which was more effective? Was peer response more helpful in class or out of class? Not a single one of my students thought peer response was more helpful in class. They all preferred doing it out of class, where they had more control over what was happening and felt more involved in the process. Also, I think people were more honest with one another outside of class. Maybe that’s because they had time to think about the papers; I don’t know. But it’s encouraging to know that DPR actually does work.

The difficulty I’m having now is spelling DPR out. I don’t want to just list the steps, but I have to figure out how to explain it, to explain how it’s done. This is not as easy as I expected it to be. Let me give it a shot here:

You teach students how to peer respond just as normal. Then you help them develop their own criteria, which is really teaching them how to do task analysis. All students know what their weaknesses are, so they know what they need help with. Once they have the criteria, all the responding is actually done outside of class. That’s what I like about it so much. I don’t feel like I’m wasting class time peer responding, and I don’t feel guilty just sitting at my desk while they work (I know, that’s still technically teaching, but I feel like it’s slacking off).

Outside of class, students trade papers and follow the prompts that the task analysis generated. Maybe (hopefully) they read papers out loud to see if the words flow. Whatever they do, when they’re done, they return the draft, along with comments both written and some that they can say to each other to explain where they were confused. Commented draft in hand, the student then rewrites the paper, making changes and (again, hopefully) improvements based on the comments.

That new draft is then exchanged with a different student, and the process repeats itself. The best part of this, in my opinion, is that students can check to see if they succeeded in making improvements from the last draft. And if they didn’t, they can try again. If a point was unclear in the first draft, and is still unclear in the second, then maybe the student will either see how to fix it or ask their responder (or me) for help with it.

Since all of this is done outside of class, I can spend class time talking about techniques for the papers, and working on the task analysis that the students did earlier. We can see if the students were entirely honest with themselves. Maybe there’s something they need help with that they weren’t willing to admit; maybe there’s something they need help with that they didn’t know they needed help with. We can refine the prompts together, in another method of testing the testing, in order to improve the responses they do outside of class.

The benefits, I think, are huge. The students tend to get better response outside of class. There’s no time crunch, they can do the responding wherever (and whenever) they feel comfortable, and they feel more free to ask one another questions and run solutions by each other. Also, perhaps more importantly, there’s an extra draft sneaked in there. As it currently stands, my students come to class and peer edit two papers each in one class period. Each of their papers is responded to by two other people. The trouble is, that’s two people on one draft. By doing the discount method, they write a rough draft and give that to the first responder, then revise and give that draft to a second responder. The first draft they can hand in (one that has been commented on by two classmates) is actually their third draft, instead of the second, as it is now. (and if they keep up with the extra credit, I get to see a sixth draft).

I’m planning on doing DPR next semester. My hope/expectation is that I’ll see a higher quality of papers. Of course, I can’t judge based on one semester, but maybe I can get an idea.

The next step for me is to see how ELSE user centered design can be mapped on to writing studies. To do that, I think I have a lot of reading I need to do. I’ll post reviews as I finish books.

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