Archive for January, 2008

I’ve finished grading the first set of papers. These papers, remember, were written exclusively with DPR. Not surprisingly, some people got no help at all from the peer edits. In probably half those cases, the reason they got no help was that they ignored the suggestions that were provided. The rest of the time, suggestions remained on the surface.

What was surprising was that, on the whole, the papers were better. I think I graded more harshly because of my own new grading policy (that students who want an A in the course have to rewrite papers until they are of A quality), but even still, the vast majority of my students received a B or better. But that’s not what I mean by the papers being better.

When I graded papers last semester, I was astounded by how many students forgot to do little things, like include a title page. I would say that at least 30% of the students forgot that particular item. Considering that there were only 10 items they were being graded on (which they chose as a class), and that a title page is SUCH an easy thing to do, that was a bit surprising.

This time around, there were 3 papers without title pages. Out of 40, that’s pretty good. But there’s more. (more…)

<edit: I don’t know why the paragraphs didn’t come through. Hopefully, they’re visible now. sorry about that.>

I mentioned already that I tried DPR in class. I wanted to take some time and go into specifics for how I did it, so that any who care to try themselves have a baseline to jump from.I began by asking my class how many of them had done peer response in some form in the past. Virtually everyone said they had. I followed up by asking how many of them had gotten any real help from doing it. The number of hands decreased dramatically.

So I asked those who got help what kind of help they got. For the most part, they could tell me nothing more than help with grammar and spelling. The only other comment was that sometimes it helps to have someone else tell you your paper is good.

I then turned to the rest of the class and asked them why peer response didn’t help them in the past. Some people said they didn’t know what to look for, some said that they just focused on little things because that’s what they were supposed to do, some said they didn’t trust one another, and some said they didn’t know what to look for.


In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how much value I’d really get out of this book once I started reading it. It’s not that Nielsen isn’t saying good and important things. It’s just that this book has been so influential that I already knew most of the stuff he was talking about. The book was written at the end of 1999, and kind of a lot has happened since then. Many of the suggestions that at the time were probably revolutionary are now the standard operating procedures.

It is interesting to see where some of these ideas came from, though. I like reading about the importance of making sure that text sizes on a web page are relative, and how to deal with various accessibility issues for websites. I like his treatment of frames, where he says that his basic advice is “Frames: Just Say No” (85), which fits with what I’ve been taught (and, in fact, what I was taught was based on many of the ideas this book is presenting.

As I moved through the book, beginning to succumb to the desire to skim over content discussing actual web design, content that I read already in other books that were published after this one, I eventually hit a few things that really caught my interest. (more…)

I started doing discount peer response in my classes this semester. It’s my first time doing it all the way. In the past I’ve had it along with regular peer response, in a twisted sort of hybrid. But now I have students that never peer respond in class; they do all the work on their own.

My plan was to have them do one round of that, fix their draft, and then bring the draft to class. If DPR didn’t work for them, I’d have them peer respond in class as normal and then go back to the old way, tail between my legs, thinking that maybe DPR is just a good idea in theory.

Thankfully, that’s not what happened. My students told me that they got more out of this type of peer response than they’ve ever gotten out of doing it in class. They asked questions, we dealt with issues, and they’re trying again over the weekend. I still don’t know if DPR works, of course. I won’t even be able to suggest that it can until I see their papers. If they did DPR but got nothing out of it, their papers will show. But thinking back to how my students did it in the past, and how much good it did them, I’m pretty confident.

What’s particularly interesting is that six of my roughly forty students completely started over after getting comments on their draft. They picked a different topic and wrote the entire thing from scratch. They asked if this was okay. What excites me about this is that they were looking at peer response as PART of the process, not as the end. I told them that they absolutely could, and that it counted as a draft (since they need 3 for each paper). I did say that they needed to have at least one additional draft beyond whatever they settled on, but that’s just so that a student can’t write two papers and then download a third (or download three). I want them to be able to actually improve from one draft to another.

<digression>Which brings up an interesting point. When working with peer response, in some ways plagiarism isn’t much of an issue. Yes, if they plagiarize they won’t have written the paper, but they can still learn how to peer respond and learn the value of writing an additional draft. I’m not saying that plagiarism is okay (far from it), but I think it’s interesting to think about peer response draft to draft.</digression>

In other news, I’m trucking through Jakob Nielsen’s Designing Web Usability, and hope to have a review of it up in the next day or so. After that, I have a short reading list before I go ‘fishing’ for more sources. I’m planning to study iteration, and will probably end up asking one of the guys who works at the library to point me to some interesting places. My current reading list (after Nielsen) is as follows:

  • Hueretics: The logic of invention by Gregory L. Ulmer
  • Applied Grammatology also by Gregory L. Ulmer
  • Selected parts of Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida

Like I said, short list.

The paper on discount peer response went, in my opinion, very well. I’m quite proud of it. There are issues that still need to be addressed, and there will be revisions that still need to be made, but for the most part, it’s pretty solid. In terms of my thesis, that word has come down that I can use that paper as the first 50% of it. So I need another 20 pager to round things out; one that focuses on theory and not on teaching. It’s a good point; I do need to examine other things. As much as I want to spend my life teaching, I know that part of the game is theory and publishing, and if I want to get the teaching gigs I want, I need to play the game. Besides, theory is fun. So I have the other 50% to get done.

(actually, doing the math, the first paper is 45%, the second is 45%, and a brief introduction tying the two together will comprise the other 10%)

So I need to figure out what I want to do for the second half. Which means heading back to my list of research interests. For the purpose of this brainstorm, I’m going to go down the list and see what I have immediately to say about each of the items that jump out at me.


The new semester has begun, and I am back to work. I’ve set a goal for myself of reading 500 pages a week, one that I imagine will take me a little while to get up to. But more importantly, I’ve decided that I will not write for my thesis at least until March, thus giving me a solid month and a half of just reading. I likely will continue reading into March in order to refine whatever I’ve figured out in this first run of reading, but for now, I’m just trying to broaden my knowledge base, so that I can approach problems from a place of better understanding.

To that end, today I finished reading Jakob Nielsen’s Usability Engineering, which I had started before the break. This book was somewhat revolutionary for me, as Nielsen has tended to be in recent experiences. What follows is a somewhat unorthodox review of the book. As with everything else here, this review is slanted towards my own research, and so not all of the book was relevant to me. (more…)