Peer-Review System Improves Student Learning

The sound of a room filled with more than 200 college students talking about science is a special kind of pandemonium. It is also a special kind of atmosphere that generates deep learning. Brian, and his brother Stephen Lower of the School of Environment and Natural Resources have been catalysts for deep learning through the Environmental Science Symposium, the final assignment in their ENR2100 courses for the past three years.

At the Science Symposium, more than 700 students in each of their courses research a topic, develop a poster, and present at the symposium to their peers at the Ohio Union. With roughly 200 at a time, it’s an exciting end to the semester for the students who get to showcase their work.

Although ineffective in the past due to logistics and organization, peer-review is a crucial part of the Science Symposium. Having students evaluate each others’ work leads to deeper and more authentic learning, as peer-review requires students to be thoughtful about each other's work. Students are also more likely to put extra effort into work that their peers will see and respond to.

Organizing the peer-review and ensuring its success however, is still the responsibility of the instructor and at this magnitude, it is very time consuming. Realizing this, Dr. Lower, a digital pioneer at Ohio State took it upon himself to develop a solution that both boosts instructor efficiency while providing students with qualitative feedback on their work in a timely manner. The solution – develop a system where peer-review can be conducted digitally and feedback delivered almost simultaneously.

Dr. Lower received an Impact Grant to partner with ODEE in order to build and test a digital peer-review system in his ENR 2100 course throughout autumn 2014 and spring 2015. With funding and ODEE support, a poster application was built. The application allowed students to peer-review online, and in the moment on their laptop or mobile device.

“Our Science Symposium is a good way to teach the students about the peer-review system that we built with our Impact Grant,” said Lower. “It’s a great way to get students from different departments and colleges involved because the students really enjoy using this.”

The Results:

Implementing a digital peer-review system in ENR 2100 was hugely successful both in terms of student learning and increasing instructor efficiency. Some of the results:

  • The peer-review system reduced instructor time spent organizing peer-review for the event by 80 percent, or roughly 60 hours.
  • 98 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that they were able to complete each task they attempted within the system.
    • 92 percent agreed that it was “easy” to complete their task.
  • 97 percent of students agreed that the instructional technology used in ENR 2100 helped them learn.
    • 95 percent agreed that it increased their satisfaction with the course.
  • 90 percent of students in the course agreed that the system helped them become a better student because they were given access to constructive feedback regarding their presentation.
    • 96 percent of those students agreed the system provided timely feedback. 

"This was a unique opportunity to combine efficiency with deeper student learning," says Henry Griffy, ODEE Grants Coordinator. "The usual criticism is that technology is a barrier between students and instructors, but in this case, we see it being a bridge, because it frees up time from paper."

Next Steps

At the start of the grant, the system, built in-house at ODEE was developed with adaptability in mind. After the successful pilot at ENR’s fall Science Symposium, there has been increased interest in the digital system from other colleges and departments. 

Nearly 400 students and 200 judges already used it at the College of Medicine’s Poster Day, and roughly 700 high school students used the peer-review system at State Science Day. The impact of this system has spread quickly and there has been increased interest in further use with other departments on campus.

Plans have been discussed to add custom features, such as improving the user interface and building a fully online system in which students could upload PDFs of presentations and view them online. The fully online system could be valuable for online courses because it would make it easier for students who do not see each other in person to interact with each other's work and providing detailed feedback. 

“This system is valuable to students because it gives them the opportunity to talk with and learn from their peers,” said Liv Gjestvang, Associate Vice President of ODEE. “They said this system is really changing the impact of the research and work that they do.”