Using Google Docs Forms to Run a Peer-Review Writing Workshop

techie_workshopToday in my literary theory and writing course I found yet another great use for Google Docs, one of our favorite subjects here at ProfHacker. Specifically, I used Google Docs Forms to structure an in-class peer review workshop.

I’ve asked my class to submit all of their writing via Google Docs this semester. Google Docs are easier to comment on and return to students. My students and I also don’t need to worry about which version of a given document is attached to which email, since we share a online documents rather than exchanging files. Though there have been a few technical hiccups, on the whole, managing a revision-heavy class has been much easier through Google Docs than it ever was via email or CMS.

Google Docs has also made previous in-class workshops easier. Students share their documents with their peer reviewers, who can all view, discuss, and comment on the document simultaneously. Today, however, I wanted to offer them some more guidance through the workshop—I wanted to focus their attention on those elements I will evaluate when I grade their final portfolios. For this I turned to Google Docs Forms. Here I could ask students for very specific feedback about their partners’ papers, and I could ask for many different kinds of feedback: from checkboxes of particular qualities to paragraph-length responses. Here’s the form we used—which, I must add, I was able to put together, based on a previous paper worksheet, in about 30 minutes.

What were the advantages to asking students to use Google Docs Forms, rather than printing out workshop sheets? There were several:

  1. More textual/critical detail: because students were reading electronic papers, and commenting using an electronic form, I could ask them to excerpt passages from their partner’s paper to then evaluate. They could copy and paste their partner’s claim, for instance, into a box on the form. This forced them to actually find their partners’ claim, rather than summarize it, and then to comment on its substance rather than what they perceived as their partner’s intent.
  2. Easier collection: when students finished their forms, their evaluations appeared in the corresponding Google Docs Spreadsheet. This allowed me to look over all of their responses quickly and easily.
  3. Insight from aggregation: having all of my students’ responses collected in one spreadsheet allowed me to easily compare their responses in particular categories. I got an overview of the class’ critical priorities, and could directly compare their levels of insight.
  4. Easy sharing: once students finished their peer reviews, I hid the two columns with names (“Author Name” and “Reviewer Name”) and shared the spreadsheet with the class. I made sure to give them permission to “view only” so that they couldn’t expand the name columns, and told them to find their papers by title. This way students could see the comments about their own paper and compare those with the comments on their (anonymous) peers’ papers.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting twist on the standard peer review workshop. The room was, perhaps, a little too quiet. I will need to think about how to integrate conversation into this process the next time I run a workshop through Google Docs Forms.

(And, of course, you should always think about “Stability and Security in the Cloud” with activities like this one.)

How about you? Have you found any technology that helps make peer review more interesting or useful to students? If so, tell us about it in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user maltman23.]

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