Stephanie Vanderslice–Using Discussion Boards for Peer Review

Rapid Response Pedagogy ResourcesAs many universities are creating contingency plans in the face of COVID-19, Assay is collecting lesson plans and best practices to help our colleagues make the shift from face-to-face to online teaching as the need arises. While this compiling of resources is in response to COVID-19, there are many reasons why face-to-face classes might need to move online on short notice––hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, etc. These resources might be more broadly useful in online teaching, but we are currently working to support our colleagues who might be working to rethink their pedagogy and methods on very short notice.

I have found that when teaching online, peer review works best by creating a discussion board for each workshop.  The student being workshopped posts their work on that discussion board.  Then, the other students have a certain reasonable amount of time (see my syllabus below for examples) to post a response, still on that discussion board. The thread for the discussion on the student work becomes the peer review for that student.  To encourage discussion, after the students have posted a response, they have another reasonable amount of time (again, see below for example) to read through the responses and post at least one response engaging with/responding to the responses of their other classmates.

This is how the instructions look on each discussion board I create:

Monday Thursday Sunday
  • Read posted student work.
  • Consider comments on each work.
  • Post one comment on each student work (two paragraphs minimum).
  • Respond to one comment on each student workshop thread.

Peer Review is important in my class. I weight it heavily, because I believe that metacognition about writing helps students improve dramatically in their writing and become better critics of their own works.  I monitor the peer reviews online to make sure students are doing them and then incorporate a summary of the peer responses in my own critique of the students’ work.

I’ve taught Introduction to Creative Writing online several times now and the level of discourse has actually felt much higher than in my face to face courses.  I think this may be because the students have to do everything, peer responses, reading discussions, and so forth, in writing that has an audience, and it makes them more considered and reflective. Otherwise, I can’t really explain it.  It is certainly worth researching.

Examples of directions from the Syllabus:

Full Class Workshop

In the last month of the semester, each student will have a chance to have a full class workshop of her or his work.  You’ll sign up for a date to post your work on a discussion page online, and the class will discuss it online.  You’ll be able to sign up for the date for this workshop at the beginning of the semester and choose any piece you want to bring before the whole class (as long as it’s different and a different genre from Writing Project I and II). For more about the Full Class Workshop, see the Peer Response section below.

Peer Responses-Full Class Workshop

Within three days each workshop date and each student work posted, you will post at least two paragraphs in response.  After that, you will have 2 days to post one  response to the responses to the student work posted.  As you can see from the assignment list, your responses are a significant part of your grade.  Take them seriously.  Learning to examine and respond to another writer’s work is crucial to developing the ability to read and evaluate your own.  In fact, what you learn from writing these responses may be the most important part of this course.  Also, stay on top of your responses; if you get behind you will end up responding to too many pieces at once.

Stephanie Vanderslice is Professor and Director of the Arkansas Writer’s MFA Workshop. Her most recent books include, The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: An Instructional Memoir for the Rest of Us and Can Creative Writing Really Be Taught? She also writes novels, creative nonfiction, fiction, and creative criticism.


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