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Using Technology for Peer Response

Many of the different methods of response mentioned above can be adapted for use with technology, either in a computer classroom or an online class, using some of the strategies that follow.*

MS Word Comment Feature

Editors and publishers in the professional world (and many teachers) regularly use Microsoft Word’s commenting feature to give feedback to writers. Since students typically have access to MS Word outside of class--and it’s available for use in the GVSU computer labs--it can be an effective tool for giving feedback. There are many print and video tutorials available online for using the commenting feature, and it’s simple for students to learn and use. Students can easily highlight a section of text and type in their feedback.

It can also be fun to do a musical chairs peer response activity with MS Word when teaching in a computer lab because it gets them up and moving around the room:

  1. Have students open their papers on their computers in MS Word and have them save it with a new version name. Tell them to close out all other programs (so that they don’t leave their email or Facebook page open for others to see).
  2. Have each student in the class rotate to a new computer (could be several seats away, clockwise or counter clockwise around the room).
  3. Tell students to read the draft and add their responses.
  4. After enough time for reading and writing some comments has progressed, have students save the document (so that it doesn’t accidentally get closed out), but leave it open in MS Word. Then have everyone rotate to a new computer for another round of commenting.
  5. You can do this multiple times such that each student document has multiple sets of eyes adding their responses.
  6. Tip: Because multiple students are responding to the draft, tell them to see a previous comment as a discussion that they can join. They can edit the previous comment if they want to comment on the same section of text, skip a line or two, add a note like “New responder:” either agreeing or disagreeing with the previous responder.
  7. Important: It’s probably not a good idea to have students do this with their own computers, whether in the computer lab or in the regular classroom. There’s too much potential for a student to damage another computer because it accidentally gets knocked off a desk or some other mishap. Besides, some people are not comfortable having just anyone use their computer, and there are certainly reasonable privacy concerns about doing so.

MS Word Track Changes

Microsoft Word’s Track Changes is an excellent feature used by editors and publishers to work with authors. At first glance, it might seem like a great tool for student proofreading/copy editing workshops. However, Track Changes has an “accept all” feature. It’s too easy for a student to take all the changes without even looking at them (which makes it problematic for teacher feedback on drafts as well). It’s better to use the MS Word Comment Feature and have students explain the error as a comment so that the writer has to at least make the correction, even if they don’t think about it much. Or simply do a proofreading/copy editing workshop with a print copy. That always works.

Google Drive Documents

Google Drive has an online word processor that is more limited as a writing tool in many respects than MS Word, yet it offers some increased functionality for responding and talking about writing. First, students can share their document links and enable commenting without having to trade files back and forth, as one would have to do to take advantage of MS Word’s commenting features. Google’s commenting feature also has discussion threading built in so that one can reply as a separate comment to an existing comment.

Before using this technology in the classroom, be sure to research tutorials that show how to share document links, how to enable commenting for document visitors, and how to use the commenting features. Know that because all of the students have GVSU Gmail accounts, they already have a Google Drive account.

Adobe Reader Comments

While for the most part, MS Word or Google Drive commenting features are a little easier to use, Adobe Reader, starting with version XI, has an annotation feature built in for posting comments on PDFs. This can be useful for documents that are not word processing files to begin with.

Blackboard Forums

Blackboard forums can be another good way for students to share drafts and post feedback. It can help for the teacher to create peer response groups with their own forum threads so that they can share their drafts as attachments, and then respond. It’s also helpful to remind students how easy it is to reference a section of a text using copy and paste with quotes in the Blackboard comment field so that writers know specifically which part of a draft they are referencing.

Creating a Peer Response Conversation Online

One of the advantages of face-to-face peer response groups is that it often results in a conversation about the text. For a completely online peer response workshop experience, the teacher can stimulate a similar conversation by requiring students to use Google Drive documents or Blackboard forums.

For Day 1, have the students read and post their initial responses. For Day 2, have everyone (including the writer) respond to other responses. Perhaps it would be good to have a follow-up Day 3 with additional responses. Otherwise, without the assignment requiring them to visit and engage in conversation over a period of time, most students will post once and not return.

In a completely online class, it could be possible to have students agree to workshop via online chat systems. Although consider that having students schedule a meeting time where they can all get together online might be difficult. Give them plenty of days advance notice to schedule this activity.

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* This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/. Any derivatives of this work must attribute the text to Grand Valley State University SWS.
  Last Modified Date: April 21, 2014
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