In "Using Peer Feedback to Enhance the Quality of Student Online Postings: An Exploratory Study" Ertmer et. al (2007) begins with the role of feedback in online environments noting the fact that it is even more important than in traditional settings. This is because in online environments lack of feedback in online courses. Due its importance, Ertmer et. al (2007) make several recommendations for increasing the effectiveness of feedback. First, feedback should be skill focused rather than focused on the end product. Second, feedback should be prompt and timely. Third, feedback should be ongoing/formative. Fourth, it should be summative. And finally, it should be constructive and consistent. When feedback meets this criteria, Ertmer et. al explains that feedback can improve the quality of online discussions and responses. The problem, they explain, is that this type of feedback is time consuming. As a potential solution, Ertmer et. al proposes the use of peer feedback. There are several advantages to using peer feedback. It can be more timely and create a sense of community in an online course. It can also create new learning experiences for all parties involved as well as humanize the online learning experience (p. 415). In terms of receiving feedback, peer feedback increases the number of meaningful interactions in the course which in turn leads to greater learner satisfaction. Instructor and peer feedback, when done right, can also increase the quality of discourse which in turn Ertmer et. al claims will increase the quality of learning in online courses. There are also several benefits to giving peer feedback. Specifically, students progress beyond the cognitive processes that were required to complete the assigned task and engage in higher order thinking to give feedback (e.g. questioning, comparing, reflecting, etc.). Giving feedback also promotes autonomy as each learner comes to give and receive feedback and recognize the instructor is not the only one who can. This is said to over time increase learning.
While there are clear advantages to giving and receiving peer feedback, using peer feedback is not without challenges. Before using peer feedback can add value to the learning process in a traditional classroom setting, students must overcome the anxiety of giving and receiving feedback to peers. Ensuring reliability is also a concern. Ertmer et. al note that it is unclear whether or not these challenges will be mitigated or exacerbated in an online environment. In part, this is because communicating complex ideas in an online environment can be challenging with limited face-to-face interactions.
With limited research conducted on the impact of using peer feedback to shape the quality of discourse in an online course, the purpose Ertmer et. al's exploratory study was to examine "students' perceptions of the value of giving and receiving peer feedback regarding the quality of discussions posting in an online course" (p. 416). The research questions included:
Ertmer et. al used a case study framework to conduct a semester long study on the use of peer feedback in an online environment. The research team used pre and post surveys as will as interview protocols as data collection instruments. A scoring rubric based on Bloom's taxonomy was also used to give feedback. The use of this rubric to provide feedback was first modeled by the instructors for the first six weeks of the course. Fifteen participants were then required to give peer feedback using the Bloom's taxonomy rubric. Participation points were awarded for giving feedback. Peer feedback scores counted towards students' final grades. Prior to using the rubric to give feedback, participants were given sample responses that were scored with the rubric to mitigate variation amongst participants when giving feedback. Surveys were used to collect data on perceptions of giving and receiving feedback. Interviews were conducted to gather individual insights on the process. Scores were used to determine the impact of peer feedback on DQ quality.
The following results are discussed by Ertmer et. al:
Several explanations for the results are shared in the discussion. First, the scoring rubric for determining the quality of discussion board responses was only two points. With a two point spread, there is little room for growth. Especially for students that started with relatively high scores on their two required posts. Second, many of the questions were not crafted in a way that invites students to respond at high levels of Bloom's taxonomy. This likely impacted students ability to demonstrate growth in term sof the quality of their responses. Third, feedback was channeled through the instructor which causes a significant delay (two weeks) in receiving feedback. The authors explain that this lag time may have canceled the proposed benefit of providing more timely feedback through the use of peers.
Ertmer et. al point to the small sample size, duration of the study, and the limited two point scale of the quality rubric as limitations of the study. While they suggest that conducting the study over a longer period of time with a rating scale that allows for greater improvement could result in a measurable difference in the quality of student postings, this suggestion for future work also ignores their earlier concern that using a larger scale would also increase the amount of variation amongst scores weakening the reliability of the instrument.
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.