Chapter 7: Web conferencing and peer feedback – The Plugged-In Professor


Web conferencing and peer feedback

Kevin Garrison


This activity utilizes Web conferencing in a small (10–25 student) traditional face-to-face classroom to facilitate the peer review and peer feedback process. Using a Web conferencing tool, the instructor creates a virtual meeting place, invites the students to the online room, and then shares a student’s rough draft of an assignment on the Web conference’s whiteboard. The students then, in a chat room, offer both positive and critical feedback to the author of the document. This format allows students to share their ideas in an online social medium while learning a crucial component of writing: revision, based on audience feedback

Key words

chat rooms


peer feedback

Web conferencing



Discipline/Academic areas addressed

Writing intensive courses across both the sciences and humanities.

Instructional purpose

Early student drafts tend to be written from the student’s own perspective and with less regard for how an audience perceives and interacts with a text (Flower, 1998). Peer feedback attempts to overcome this limitation by revealing how an audience might understand the text; however, traditional peer workshops (Bean, 1996) are limited because only one to four peers are able to offer feedback during a class period, effectively minimizing the quantity and quality of the feedback. This activity allows students to collectively offer peer feedback, providing the authors with insights into diverse perspectives on a piece of writing, and encouraging revision.

Using Web conferencing as a way to encourage peer feedback also serves numerous other practical functions, such as (1) providing opportunities for students to participate in nontraditional ways, (2) allowing students who are more “shy” an opportunity to share their ideas, (3) learning digital literacy skills, such as chat room netiquette and chat room interfaces, (4) preparing students for the potential of taking online training sessions and synchronous online courses, (5) allowing students to be more marketable and more familiar with a contemporary way of collectively sharing ideas, and (6) encouraging group discussion.

Student learning outcomes

1. Students will provide feedback on peers’ drafts, including positive feedback and constructive criticism.

2. Students will suggest ways in which the draft could be revised.

3. Students will understand why feedback is a necessary component of the writing process.

4. Students will explore how the feedback impacts their own writing.

5. Students will learn “netiquette” and interact with peers in an ethical and courteous manner, thereby reinforcing the idea that the audience matters in all writing.

Prerequisite skills and knowledge

 Basic computer skills, including Internet browser knowledge.

 Basic knowledge of chat rooms and “texting” language.

 While it is a rare student today who is unfamiliar with texting or SMS and chats, the instructor should check to ensure basic knowledge before the activity begins.

Step-by-step directions

1. Require students to turn in a rough draft of a writing assignment. Some examples of writing assignments for this activity could be a set of instructions in a technical writing course, a resume in a business writing course, or any other writing sample that is approximately one page long and uses both elements of design and written text to communicate a message. Ideally, the assignment will have an audience of other students, such as a set of instructions geared toward college students. Students should submit their rough draft electronically as a PDF file to ensure that the formatting does not change and so that it can be uploaded to a Web conference. Be sure to receive students’ permission to use their drafts in a peer review workshop.

2. Designate a day and a time for holding a Web conference. The meeting can be held in a computer classroom where all the students are in the same room, or the students can use campus or personal computers to attend class from a distance. These computers should have access to a high-speed Internet connection to access the Web conferencing link.

3. Prepare students and share expectations beforehand with students. For instance:

a. Demonstrate the Web conference or require the students to log in and familiarize themselves with the Web conference’s tools/layout before the day of the workshop.

b. Require participation, such as a minimum of 10—30 chat responses per student, to ensure that students offer substantial feedback.

c. Explain your expectations regarding technology failures; for instance, if a student is “late” or is unable to log in, then students should be aware of the consequences.

d. Provide the students with a list of expectations about what constitutes “positive” and “critical” feedback. Be sure to clarify what types of chat room behaviors are allowed and not allowed.

4. Create a Web conference before the time class begins. A number of Web conferencing tools exist, both for free and for purchase. The following is a short list of possibilities (from Wikipedia, 2011):

e. Elluminate Live! – a Web conferencing tool accessible in Blackboard (if purchased);

f. OpenMeetings – an open-source, free Web conferencing website;

g. – a free Web conferencing website;

h. Any purchased Web conferencing software, or software built into your academic Learning Management System.

5. Send the Web conference link to your students via email several minutes before the class begins to ensure that students can log in early and test browser/plug-in compatibility.

6. Upload a student’s rough draft to the “whiteboard” section or the “presentations” section of the Web conference. Most Web conferencing websites have a window where a document can be uploaded for shared viewing.

7. Request that the students look at the draft and offer answers to the following questions in the following order:

a. What has the author done well?

b. What has the author written that is problematic?

c. What could the author do to improve the draft?

d. Why are these changes important or useful?

e. What will you do to revise your own draft?

8. In the Web conferencing site, chat with your students to model the appropriate behaviors, to ensure that they stay on task, to summarize their feedback, and to prompt conversations to continue moving.

9. Complete peer review of as many documents as possible during the class time.

10. Save a transcript of the chat conversation (if the software/website can) – both to allow students to review afterwards and for the instructor to grade participation.

11. Hold a follow-up discussion with the class to talk about their learning experiences with the Web conference and to reinforce what was learned.

Approximate time required

Three class periods: one to talk about expectations and requirements, one to hold the workshop, and one to hold a follow-up discussion.

Required resources

 A Web conferencing website, tool, or software package such as

 Elluminate Live! – a Web conferencing tool accessible in Blackboard (if purchased);

 OpenMeetings – an open-source, free Web conferencing website; – a free Web conferencing website.

 A computer lab or students with access to their own computers (or campus computers).

 High-speed Internet connections to ensure chat conversations run smoothly. Readings might include

 discussions of netiquette;

 links to the help menus of the Web conferencing website, tool, or software package.

Variations on the basic theme

A Web conferencing tool allows students to interact with one another using a variety of different media, such as text, audio, and video. As such, a Web conference can be used as the basis for an entire online, synchronous course; as a way to conduct workshops of documents; as a mechanism for facilitating discussions about sensitive or complex topics; as a tool for collective brainstorming about topic ideas; and anything else that an instructor can creatively attempt.

Web conferencing could also be used for assignments and disciplines unrelated to writing, such as discussing a theoretical concept in a philosophy course, conducting usability tests of software in a computer science course, debating an issue in a communication course, and reviewing any other “document” or topic that is suitable for a shared, online class period.

Observations and advice

Students who are typically silent in a face-to-face class seem to “come alive” in a chat room. Oftentimes, they learn more from an online session than they do from a face-to-face session because they feel more engaged with the students and the instructor – largely because the presence of the screen mediates the conversation in different ways than a traditional classroom does. As well, students, collectively, are oftentimes better at helping each other brainstorm ideas and review each other’s drafts than the instructor is, and the students in my courses frequently request more workshops than I have scheduled for the semester.

Recommended reading

Bean, J.C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 1996.

Bower, M. Synchronous collaboration competencies in web-conferencing environments: Their impact on the learning process. Distance Education. 2011; 32(1):63–83.

Coffey, J.W. Web conferencing software in university-level, e-learning-based, technical courses. Journal of Educational Technology Systems. 2010; 38(3):367–381.

Cummings, J., Facilitating interactions among students and faculty via web-based conferencing systems. Journal of Technology in Human Services. 2002;20(3/4):245–265, doi: 10.1300/J017v20n03_03.

Ede, L., Lunsford, A. Audience addressed/audience invoked: The role of audience in composition theory and pedagogy. College Composition and Communication. 1984; 35(2):155–171.

Flower, L. Problem-solving Strategies for Writing in College and Community. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College; 1998.

Jenks, C. When is it appropriate to talk? Managing overlapping talk in multi-participant voice-based chat rooms. Computer Assisted Language Learning. 2009; 22(1):19–30.

Lietzau, J.A., Breaking out of the asynchronous box: Using web conferencing in distance learning. Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning. 2009;3(3/4):108–119, doi: 10.1080/15332900903375291.

Mubarak, A.R., Rohde, A.A., Pakulski, P.P., The social benefits of online chat rooms for university students: An explorative study. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. 2009;31(2):161–174, doi: 10.1080/ 13600800802559310.

Offir, B., Lev, Y., Bezalel, R. Surface and deep learning processes in distance education: Synchronous versus asynchronous systems. Computers and Education. 2008; 51(3):1172–1183.

Ong, W.J. The writer’s audience is always a fiction. PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association of America). 1975; 90(1):9–21.

Skylar, A. A comparison of asynchronous online text-based lectures and synchronous interactive web conferencing lectures. Issues in Teacher Education. 2009; 18(2):69–84.

Suduc, A., Bîzoi, M., Filip, F. Exploring multimedia web conferencing. Informatica Economica. 2009; 13(3):5–17.

Stephens, K.K., Mottet, T.P. Interactivity in a web conference training context: Effects on trainers and trainees. Communication Education. 2008; 57(1):88–104.

Wikipedia Comparison of Web Conferencing Software. 2011 Available from