Web conferencing and peer feedback
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
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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wikipedia Comparison of Web Conferencing Software. 2011 Available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_web_conferencing_software