Monday, 5 December 2016

Peer review: How to enhance learning without increasing your workload.

Peer review and feedback is generally perceived as an effective pedagogy (Zingaro & Porter, 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012; Nicol, 2010; Crouch, et al, 2007; Mitra, 2003).  As stated by Nicol (2013:103):

Peer review is an important alternative to teacher feedback, as research indicates that both the production and the receipt of feedback reviews can enhance students learning without necessarily increasing teacher workload.

In written activities peer review facilitates ‘... improvement in writing style, an awareness of how to apply assessment criteria and an ability to self-assess future work ...’ (Mostert & Snowball, 2012:679).  Nicol (2010) goes further, and states that:

… the act of giving feedback is cognitively more demanding; it engages students more actively in the process; they spend time thinking about the criteria and how the assignment is related to the criteria ...
Nicol (2010, in University of Strathclyde, 2010:3:06)

A recent online course at Edge Hill University (Callaghan, 2013), following Salmon’s five stage model (2004) evidenced the effectiveness of peer review.  Here are some points from students’ perspectives:
  • More timely, and a greater quantity of feedback available (no ‘one academic’ bottleneck);
  • Several varied perspectives encourages deeper self-reflection;
  • Peer language is better received / understood (Topping, 1998);
… and that the quality of the peer feedback became more useful as the course progressed - and peers’ became more confident and competent in their review and feedback skills.

More recently, Nicol et al. suggest that peer review closes “ … the gap between receipt of feedback and its application” (2015:104), allowing opportunities to use the feedback in their current work, something that is “ … quite rare after teacher feedback” (ibid).

Issues / barriers

Some issues / barriers include:

  • Students’ having a lack of confidence in their own work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Students’ lack confidence in commenting on peers’ work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013)
  • Students not happy with others commenting on their work (Callaghan, 2015; Wilson et al., 2014)
  • Quality of comments poor, in some part due to reluctance to offer areas for improvement (Callaghan, 2015)
  • ‘ … lack of confidence in assessors and/or assessments ...’ (Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Mostert & Snowball report 47% of students found ‘ … the peer assessment exercise was not useful.’. [note though, this was assessment, not review / feedback]
  • Students concerned about others using their work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Evidence that instructor intervention is required to reap significant learning gains (Zingaro & Porter, 2014);

… and in an online ‘leveraged’ environment, where the the tutor's voice is amplified to 100s or 1000s of students, tutors will feel pressured to produce well polished interactions (Bair and Bair, 2011).

Here's a PowerPoint addressing some of the barriers: Peer Review as a Pedagogy, given as part of my SOLSTICE Fellowship at Edge Hill University.

Now what (Driscoll, 2007)

Intended outcomes of following this approach include:

1) Getting students more engaged with learning content - effectively: i.e., minimising interaction required from tutors.  However, those looking to reduce their workloads should be warned that such motivation is not a successful driver (Wilson et al., 2014).

2) Encouraging the use of technology to facilitate peer review - with echoes of 'Community of Inquiry' (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) creating a deeper and more engaging learning experience.  Ideas such as Zhao et al.’s (2014) three strands of participation, interaction and social presence may further inform your approach.

3) Also consider the role of the tutor - encouraging tutors to move away from being the source of knowledge or ‘Sage on the Stage’ (King, 1993) to be more of a learning facilitator, like a ‘Guide on the Side’ (Hertz-Lazarowitz & Shacher, 1990) or ‘Ghost in the Wings’ (Mazzolini and Maddison, 2007).

I hope that having read this far you might have a little more confidence and knowledge about the peer review process and have ideas about how to embed effective online discussion into their curricula.  I'm always happy to continue the discussion too - perhaps via @dbcallaghan - perhaps this may lead onto a webinar?


Callaghan, D. (2015) Experiences teaching an online 3rd year dissertation module at Edge Hill University, Nov 2014 - Feb 2015.

Callaghan, D. (2013) A Tidal Wave of Discussion … How active discussion produced outstanding results [online].  Available from: [13th May 2015].

Crouch, H., Watkins, J. Fagen, A.P., Mazur, E. (2007) Peer Instruction: Engaging students one-on-one, all at once in Reviews in Physics Education Research, Ed. E.F. Redish and P. Cooney, pp. 1-1 (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, MD, 2007). Available from:

Driscoll, J., 2007. Practising clinical supervision: a reflective approach for healthcare professionals. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Hertz-Lazarowitz, R. and Shachar, H. (1990) Teachers' verbal behavior in cooperative and whole-class instruction. In: S. Sharan (eds) Cooperative Learning. Praeger. 77-94.

King, A., Learning, P. A. and Questioning, G. R. P. (1993) From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41 (1) 30-35.

Mazzolini, M. and Maddison, S. (2007) When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 49 (2) 193-213.

Mitra, S. (2003). “Minimally Invasive Education: A progress report on the "Hole-in-the-wall" experiments”. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(3), 367-371.

Mostert, M.; Snowball , J. (2012) Where angels fear to tread: online peer-assessment in a large first-year class Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education Vol. 38, Iss. 6, 2013

Nicol, D. (2010) The foundation for graduate attributes: Developing self-regulation through self and peer assessment. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.Scotland,

Nicol, D., Thomson, A, and Breslin, C. (2013) Rethinking feedback practices in
higher education: a peer review perspective. Assessment and evaluation in higher education. 39(1),  102-122.

Salmon, G. (2004) E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. London: Routledge.

Topping, K. 1998. Peer Assessment between Students in Colleges and Universities.  Review of Educational Research, 68(3), 249–276.

University of Strathclyde (2010) REAP Video [accessed 20-05-2015]

Zingaro, D., & Porter, L. (2014) Peer instruction in computing: The value of instructor intervention. Computers & Education, 71 , 87–96.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Blogs, discussion boards and journals.

A frequent question is how to use blogs and discussion boards.  Here's some recent advice:

Thanks for this opportunity to think things through – I feel a blog post coming on!?
I like discussion for collaboration – it’s a fab tool for those developing their confidence with their peers, reinforcing concepts; exploring issues; learning by explaining to others etc.
Blogs may be useful for more confident /capable students as there is an intended audience to write for and the possibility of critique / criticism.
Journals should also be considered – these are usually private to the student and tutor, so are great for less confident learners to build up their writing skills.
So, in summary, and making swathing* generalisations, journals for Y1, blogs (perhaps just Blackboard / internal ones) and discussion for Y2, and for Y3 look at public blogs and engagement with public discussion forums (TES etc).
Very kindest regards,
*Did you know a swathe is the amount of hay you can cut by hand in one pass? (late night R4!?)

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Creating talking head and similar videos

A popular topic on the Edge Hill PGCert course has been making ‘talking head’ and other videos / screen casts for teaching and learning.

I encourage colleagues to create ‘rough and ready’ / disposable video for teaching and learning. However, if colleagues want to move to the next step, here’s an excellent piece outlining an approach to create great looking video: (via @edutopia)

Link to mic mentioned: Movo PM20 Dual-Headed Lavalier Lapel Clip-on:

Other resources for video creation:

Monday, 15 June 2015

Education should be learner led, facilitate unfettered access to best of breed materials, and ditto staff (teachers, facilitators, co-constructors) (Bonk, 2009)

Larry Cuban's recent post on school reform ("Educators’ Love Affair with Change") reminded me of the preface to my MA dissertation from 2010 - posted below.  Even though this is six years old (and for the first time in public here), it still feels very contemporary and perhaps even prescient given more recent developments such as MOOCs, the Khan Academy and Sugata Mitra's work:


“Whether you are a scientist on a ship in Antarctic waters or a young girl in a Philippine village, you can learn whenever and whatever you want from whomever you are interested in learning it from.”

From the cover sleeve of: “The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education”
Curtis J. Bonk
July 2009

The statement is not as outlandish as it might seem on first reading.  Curtis Bonk is making the point that technology, and in this case the Internet, and more specifically the services that are facilitated by the Internet, have made information available on a scale unimaginable to previous generations – and that it’s possible to harness those services in the pursuit of education, the gathering of information, and obtain assistance converting that data into knowledge.

I, too, have a strongly held belief that technology will transform the world’s educational systems, for the better.

Thus I began to explore, using this dissertation as a vehicle for that exploration, how university teachers use on-line learning environments in their teaching.  Originally the technology I intended to study was “Multimedia” (audio and video content), but it became clear later in the study that “Multimedia” must include text based content and therefore the study expanded to include attitudes and opinions towards on-line learning environments that by their nature are often heavily text based.

This might be an appropriate point to inform the reader of my background, to help them place my words and ideas and others concepts and notions into the reader’s knowledge landscape – to give a context to this dissertation.

Computers and me go back a long way.  I first came across computer equipment first hand in school in 1976 – firstly using a local council mainframe via a remote tele-type device and the second was an early micro-computer from Research Machines using a Z80 8-bit microprocessor.  I studied computer science at school, gaining 'O' level, 'A' level and then my first degree in the subject.  Hence my background with the technology is deep, wide and, perhaps in the IT industry, ancient; or in e-learning, even pre-historic.

I spent 20 years in the IT industry, became a classroom teacher of ICT from 2003 (following my PGCE) until December 2007, when I took up the role of a Learning Technologist.

Hence I have a good background in technology and education – and am currently finding my role as a learning technologist suits my experience and background.

Over the past few years I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the education system.  This paragraph is explicitly designed to be contentious in order to illustrate – and I admit that it suffers from the precise “Academic Liteness” I go on to accuse the educational establishment of.  Around 2005, whilst working as a classroom teacher, I came to the conclusion that the UK’s compulsory education system, especially provision from 11 years on is dis-educating our children.  During my time as a teacher I have observed children being taught how NOT to learn, sometimes as a side effect of the system evidencing how good it is at doing its job.  Notions of “Spoon Feeding” only scratch the surface of my dissatisfaction.  And now as a parent I see my own children suffer the same fate.  Parents remain trusting of the system to educate and/or contain their children.  Educators impose their attitudes and beliefs as to what is best from a frequently paternalistic and often “evidence lite” perspective.  Such approaches echo with Freire’s (1972) notions of colonial education, where the oppressed (children) are educated using the curriculum of the oppressor (education system).  I believe that to be effective, education must be driven by the desires and interests of the learner, not of the system.  There are initiatives in many countries that adopt this “Radical” educational approach, such as the Sudbury schools in the USA (Holzman 1997) and the educational philosophy of the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy (Thornton and Brunton, 2006).  In the UK, Summerhill School (Andresen et al., 1995) has shown both how successful the philosophy can be and how distasteful the educational establishment find the approach (the school has suffered a barrage of attacks from Ofsted (House of Commons Standing Committee G (pt 9), 2002) and the DfES (BBC News, 2000).

I believe the free and open educational resources that are mushrooming via the Internet (MIT, BBC’s Byte Size etc.) will evolve, Darwinian style, into the best of breed.  There is nothing any authority, government or educational stakeholder can do to stop this.  To prevent our learners, at whatever age, access to these resources in full, by overtly blocking access to, like the Chinese government, or implicit restrictions, like the UK’s education system demanding that our children attend the sort of institution a child from the workhouses of the 18th century would recognise, is wrong.  Further, these attitudes are dangerous to the prosperity of future society.  Curtis Bonk explores these issues in “The World is Open” – (2009:367-368) in which he suggests (demands?) that education be learner led, facilitate unfettered access to best of breed materials, and ditto staff (teachers, facilitators, co-constructors).

David Callaghan
December 2009

Friday, 23 January 2015

First vs Third person?

A recurring question for academic work is whether to write in the first or third person.  If you are researching someone else’s area, then third is the obvious choice.  However, if you are, as in the case of most teacher researchers, researching YOUR practice / context / setting then I would suggest you use the first person.

Below are four snippets from a discussion board I ran acouple of years ago that I hope you might find useful:

You can write it all in the first person.  Perhaps what Michelle means is that the literature review should only present other people's opinion and not your own.  There might be occasions that bringing your own voice to the review would be useful - hence 'I' in the literature review on these occasions is fine.
03 March 2013 21:27
There are benefits to both first and third person. First person: is more authentic – you can get more passion in the text and therefore more engagement from the reader. Third person: May help you maintain an academic and balanced style. It’s your choice – but if the story is yours, your ‘narrative’, please consider using the first person – perhaps try writing the introduction in the first person and then post it on the Introduction discussion for some feedback.  It's your decision - whatever you feel works best for you - but please be consistent!
18 January 2013 18:41
You should aim for consistency across the piece.  I notice in the draft methodology I have you have used first and third person.  This late on you may benefit from changing to first person because you will gain authenticity, and at the same time be protected against falling into the trap of anecdotal or emotional writing because you wrote it in third person originally.  However, either is acceptable and the only difference in grading will be in the use of English row on the grading grid if you're not consistent.
18 May 2013 10:42
Writing in the third person is perfectly acceptable - although I'm encouraging you to try the first person, note that many colleagues here at the University would frown on such a suggestion - so please don't be swayed by my suggestions - it won't make any difference to the marks.  Though do ensure that if you use the third person that you get the passion and commitment in there - so easy to lose when discussing 'the researcher'.
14 March 2013 23:23

Friday, 1 November 2013

Getting hung up on 'word count'

A contentious issue that has raised its head again is 'word count' - with students asking 'what if I go over' etc...

Here's my stock reply - I understand that most find this useful:

The official line from the University is that we can't penalise for being over the word count.  However, what we can penalise for is not writing concisely, content not relevant to the topic (waffle?), and repetition.  So - if you are heading well over the suggested word count, perhaps you need to go back and make sure that your study can't be accused of any of that.

One way you could reduce the word count may be to put some of the data from your findings in an appendix and then report them in summary form in the Findings and Discussion chapter.  Also - watch out for long quotes - you can paraphrase very concisely.

If you google 'reduce word count' you might come up with other suggestions.  Here's one I like:

If anyone finds good advice elsewhere please post a comment here.

Very kindest regards to all, David

Thursday, 17 October 2013

What I use, will use and should use an iPad for ...

I've been asked by a colleague to give a brief talk about how I use my iPad in my practice - so have blogged here to collect some links that others may find useful.

Stuff I use frequently

My favorite app for the iPad is Dropbox because I can access any of my notes, presentations, papers on my desktop, phone or tablet wherever I am - off or on site.  Here's a short video introducing it.  Please use the link on the right to sign up as it gives me some credit!

Next is the Gmail app - on the iPad and my Android phone.  It's got a wonderful search feature - and I NEVER delete anything, so have full records available to me wherever I am.  Another use of the Gmail service is to quickly transfer files across platforms if I'm on a PC that isn't synched to my Dropbox.

Blackboard Mobile Learn gives me access to content and discussion 'on the go' - more for my phone than the tablet.  V4.0 is a great improvement - with a much cleaner interface and the ability to change notifications settings within the app:

Also - I love the TED app - it allows you to download thousands of great talks (as I do when I go on holiday).

Stuff I use less frequently:

Prezi viewer

Stuff I intend to buy:

Explain Everything - watch this video to find out why.

Fun stuff

I couldn't resist 'Garage Band'.  Here's a tutorial:


I've done a broader iPad session last year: 'Introductory iPad Training'