The Power of Peer Review and Implications for Digital Learning (Part IV of V)

There were many challenges throughout my course. Electricity was intermittent. English, the language of communication, had varying levels of understanding among participants. But the biggest challenge was the cultural shift to a dialogue approach to learning; a big shift for many in other courses too, but even more so here. Yet over the week I slowly saw things start to change. It was 5 days of training for 12 participants, most were Ugandans. Many were community leaders coming from their towns or villages, learning how to best present content they cared about so that others would come to care as well. They were discovering adult learning principles and how to apply them, each to their own contexts.

I was most aware of the cultural challenge during the teaching practices. This was when everyone took a topic of choice and taught it to the rest of us using an adult learning approach, assisted by one other person from the group. Right after that came feedback; firstly by themselves and then from their peers. One cultural challenge was moving from monologue to dialogue teaching but another was in them becoming comfortable with the process of peer review. Should the teacher not be respected as the expert, there to impart their knowledge? Would questioning them like this not seem like challenging their authority? What if the teacher was also their work manager?

I was impressed by progress they made with peer review. After the first pair taught, feedback from participants was scant, but slowly, with lavish encouragement, it increased as later pairs taught. I was aware that as well as any overt learning going on, much hidden learning was happening too, something backed up by the research into peer review. Here are ways I saw it happening:

  • Feedback given to one pair was used later by other pairs when making their own presentation. One example was feedback about putting instructions in written form (rather than just verbal) – later pairs started to do this without being told! Participants not only gave feedback to others, but were comparing it with their own presentation and making changes appropriately. They were developing skills to generate feedback about the quality of their own work.
  • There was a mix of weak and strong presentations. Seeing a range of samples helped them develop criteria for judging whether or not a presentation was good. To avoid being harmfully critical about weaker ones, we gave ground rules on giving and receiving feedback, which helped. In early presentations, staff modeled these. Skills for learning how to be constructively critical are of use long after the course ends.
  • The quality of peer review varied a lot. This meant that participants had to make a choice on how useful it actually was. They had to decide which to keep and which to discard, so they were learning how to evaluate feedback. Again, this is a good skill to have when we receive many opinions about the work we do.

Each of these skills gained was of use well beyond our course. Research shows that teachers develop these skills through assessing the work of their students. Students need to be given similar appraisal experiences build these skills and this is done through providing peer review opportunities for them. I have become more conscious since to provide these where I can when designing training.

You may be convinced by peer review but what does it mean for digital training?

There is absolutely no reason why peer review cannot happen within classroom training. The strength of digital is in helping it to happen. Digital enables work to be reviewed and shared more easily among participants and maybe also more ecologically. Work submitted for review need not be near the final product; it can be a rough plan or at draft stage, which makes feedback immediately useful and so become formative in learning. Using media such as discussion forums or a class wiki means review comments can come over a longer period, which allows comments become more reflective. Digital also enables a wider variety of people to review, not just demographically but also internationally, leading to a richer range of insights given. One highlight for me of my Digital Education Masters studies was learning first-hand, ways in which Swedish education worked differently to what I was familiar with.

By the end of the week in Uganda, we were pleased to see that participants could analyse and be constructively critical of each other’s training and recognise good training. These were skills they would be able to use long thereafter.

How can you integrate peer review into training that you provide – either classroom or digital?


Read more blog posts by Peter Tate:

Peter Tate designs and delivers interfaith and cross-cultural training in both classroom and digital formats at the King’s Centre Southall, London. This is alongside his studies for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University on how to implement a Dialogue Education (DE) approach in online environments. He previously provided training consultancy as Brainy Training Solutions for various charities, including financial management training for the WaterAid charity. Before that, he delivered DE-type training for UK based charities Hope Consultants (developing digital training to make use of DE) and Wycliffe UK (training trainers to implement DE within their adult learning programmes).