Facilitate Effective Online Peer Response

Below,  we provide a map of our overall recommendations on facilitating effective online peer response, emphasizing the importance of spending time to plan the peer response and prepare students with prompts and tools for providing useful feedback. We have also included links to additional materials if you want more detailed information. If you still have questions, please contact a member of the HCWE for support.

  • Use platforms that are already part of your class.

Canvas and Google Docs are both useful for facilitating peer response. With GoogleDocs, you could set up folders for students to upload their drafts; they can share their documents with each other and add their responses using the comments feature. Using Canvas, though, may be a better option because it’s built into your course already. Here are some helpful guides:

      1. Faculty Canvas Guide for Creating a Peer Response Assignment
      2. Student Canvas Guide: How do I know if I have a Peer Response Assignment?
      3. Student Canvas Guide: How do I submit a peer response to an assignment?
      4. Student Canvas Guide: Where can I find my peers’ feedback for reviewed assignments?

Whichever platform you choose, be sure you walk through it with your students first so they understand how to use it, and be prepared to help students troubleshoot if this is your first time using these platforms for peer feedback.

  • Discuss the importance of peer response with your students in advance.

You might create a short video to share with students about why this activity is useful. Remind students that reading peers’ work and receiving peers’ responses can help clarify assignment expectations, reveal how others interpret one’s own work, and prompt new ideas for revision. You might watch this video, Feedback and Peer Review, for some ideas and language to use. This short video from MIT, No One Writes Alone -- A Guide for Students, explains the benefits of peer response from the student’s perspective and could be something you assign to your class. (Although the video shows peer response in a face-to-face classroom, the purpose and benefits of the activity come across strongly.)

  • Be clear about what stage of writing you expect students’ projects to be in when they exchange papers, and the types of revision you expect after peer response. 

For example: If students are submitting a partial draft of an assignment, tell students that it’s okay if the draft isn’t polished and that editing mechanical errors is not the goal of the activity. Instead, they should work on clarifying their ideas.

  • Clarify for students how peer response will be graded and by what criteria. 

We recommend treating peer responses as low stakes assignments that facilitate learning. They should count towards students’ final grades, and we recommend that they be evaluated for their adherence to your peer response guidelines, their specificity, and the engagement they show with peers’ intentions and ideas.

  • Make sure each student receives at least two responses to their work. 

It’s helpful for students to get a variety of perspectives and suggestions, as well as to learn how to provide effective feedback themselves to a variety of peers. Students also learn by reading and thinking about how others approach the same assignment.

  • Give clear guidelines regarding what you want students to look for and respond to in each other’s drafts. 

Tie these guidelines to your assignment outcomes (review the assignment prompt, rubric, etc. for ideas and consistency) and consider the stage of writing.  For example: Do you want students to spend time making editorial suggestions (probably most helpful with final drafts) or responding to the paper’s larger ideas (more helpful for early drafts)? What are the main features of this assignment you want students to focus on as they revise (strong use of evidence? detailed analysis? etc.) If you use a rubric, consider providing it to focus students’ responses. Students provide more substantial feedback when they have clear guidance on what to look for; without this, they often default to surface errors or no feedback. 

  • Tell students an appropriate amount of time to spend on feedback. 

Ask students to give feedback asynchronously and tell them how long you expect them to spend on this activity. Giving a time frame often works better than a word count: depending on the length of the paper, you might say “you should spend half an hour writing a response to each paper” or “you should spend 10 minutes writing a response to each paper.” 

  • Have students tell their peer respondents their main concerns and questions about their drafts before exchanging papers.

Ask students to identify 2-3 main areas of concern that they’d like their peer respondent to especially pay attention to when reading their work (such as, transitions between main arguments, use of evidence, etc.). See “Helping Writers Identify Their Goals for the Peer Response Process” for an example prompt for students.

  • Discuss with students how to frame their responses in constructive ways.

Remind students to use a respectful tone and offer praise in addition to constructive criticism. You can also help students go beyond surface-level comments like “this is great” or “this is confusing” by encouraging them to write comments that are grounded in their understanding of the assignment and their response as a reader of the text. Encourage specificity: they should state not only that they got lost somewhere but also why they think they got lost and offer suggestions that would help. Comments like, “I got lost here when the topic changed abruptly. A transition to this idea would help. How does what came before relate to this new idea?” are more helpful for prompting revision than “This lost me.” This video from the University of Minnesota, Peer Review: Commenting Strategies, provides examples of constructive feedback and could be useful for students to view prior to the peer response. It is also helpful for students to practice crafting this kind of feedback on a volunteer’s paper or a paper from a prior class. 

  • Discuss with students how they should use their feedback from peer response.
Students don’t always know how to use the feedback they receive. Asking students to summarize their feedback or make a revision plan for the assignment (either as a follow-up homework assignment, small group discussion board, etc.) can encourage engagement with feedback from their peers. You should also remind students that they are not obliged to incorporate all the suggestions their peers make; instead, their job is to use peer feedback to make informed choices about how to revise. See “Possible Post-Peer Response Activities for Students” for more guidance.