Peer Review: Curse or Cure for MOOCs?

Peer ReviewAs an avid fan of MOOCs and an aspiring writer, I was pleasantly surprised to find several MOOCs dedicated to the art of writing.

In my view, we should never let complacency take root and always practice the basics. Such was my attitude as I started and submitted assignment #1 for EdX’s MOOC Write 101x: English Grammar and Style.

The challenge was to create a 300-word blog post. See my submission.

Five peer reviews were required of each student as part of the assessment process. So, with gritted teeth and head down, I focused on reading five peer reviews and tried to add value by providing useful comments. Without going through this exercise, it was not possible to retrieve others’ feedback for my submission.

After a good 40 mins or so of patient attentiveness, the moment had finally arrived when I could retrieve the peer reviews and gain some valuable insights that might help me improve my writing.

At first, I was confused. I thought I’d done something wrong … not followed the process, as we are wont to do in these fast-paced times … but I had followed the process.

Ah, there it was … the sum total of feedback from five peers: an overall score of 7/13 and the lone comment “It’s Ok!”

So, am I a better writer for all the valuable feedback I received? You can be the judge of that.

To borrow from Churchill, peer review is the worst form of feedback, apart from all the others that have been tried.


There are two main issues with peer review that stand out to me

  1. it’s clear from many reviews that people just don’t have time
  2. the way the rubric is structured prompts an overly critical response.

Hence some students, understandably disappointed and disillusioned, are prompted to write flaming posts in forums, highlighting the lack of value in peer feedback.

One possible solution is for a more comprehensive “survey style” feedback system with only optional text boxes. This assumes that the various radio buttons are more descriptive than simple “poor”, “good”, “excellent”.

Personally, I favor leveraging the forums for feedback. The quantity and quality of feedback for my work that I’ve posted to forums has been far and away superior to anything received from the peer review rubric. So, in addition to the “upvote”, why not build a more comprehensive feedback option into the forum posts? That way, it encourages engagement and leverages peers’ enthusiasm and willingness to provide feedback in context of the forum. Perhaps the clever folks at the various MOOC providers can figure out a way for students to set a privacy option for feedback.

In conclusion, the peer review mechanism is perhaps the greatest shortcoming of most MOOCs. Some fresh ideas might make all the difference—particularly those leveraging the widespread forum engagement.


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