Engagement with Peer Review: A Revised Model of Learning from Peer Feedback

March 20, 2023

Peer feedback has become an area of growing importance in classroom instruction and large-scale online teaching.

Main takeaways from this research are:

  • When participating in peer feedback, students do a wide range of activities, and a few of them are especially helpful for learning. Activities that are more constructive such as providing explanations or suggestions should be encouraged, whereas more passive activities such as receiving feedback without acting on it should not.
  • Peer review training based on well-designed rubrics should include sessions teaching students how to explain problems clearly and provide suggestions.
  • Teachers should encourage students to make revisions of the same writing task, especially high-level revisions.

student writing at a table Feedback has long been considered a central tool in teaching and learning, but often it's a passive learning experience for students because they receive information from a TA or instructor with no need to act. Participating in peer feedback is inherently less passive as students now also need to evaluate other's work. What's more, because it is easy to implement with online tools, peer feedback has become an area of growing importance in classroom instruction and large-scale online teaching. Many studies have shown that peer feedback is an effective learning tool but understanding why it is so effective has been a challenge, which is important because students are sometimes suspicious.

To better understand learning from peer feedback, Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) Senior Scientist Christian Schunn and co-author Yong Wu examined a range of typically occurring peer review-related activities: giving feedback, receiving feedback, and acting on peer feedback. In the current paper, they report on the results of an empirical investigation of the impact on learning of these different parts of peer review using the ICAP framework.* Prior research has used the ICAP framework to classify learning activities, but the present study is the first to investigate the underlying mechanisms through which students learn from different types of peer feedback.

Schunn and Wu studied 367 students from five high schools across five different states who were enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition, a course equivalent to first-year university writing courses. Using a peer assessment tool, Peerceptiv, instructors assigned a writing task. (Peerceptiv is a web-based peer assessment system originally developed at the University of Pittsburgh to address the need for large-scale writing assessments.) Students submitted their essay to Peerceptiv, which distributed the essay to four random peers at their school. The students, who provided feedback anonymously, evaluated their peers' essays using rubrics, adapted from the College Board expert scoring guide, and organized into dimensions of writing.

The authors found that peer feedback activities classified as constructive (providing explanations and making revisions after receiving explanations or providing suggestions) were consistently associated with learning, whereas activities classified as passive (e.g., receiving feedback without making revisions) or merely active (e.g., implementing specific suggestions) were not.

The findings of this study provide support for teachers to design and implement different constructive learning activities depending on which aspects of writing they are targeting. Teachers should encourage students to pro- vide more explanations and make more revisions after receiving explanations and provide suggestive feedback. To help students engage in peer feedback more actively and productively, teachers need to implement peer feedback learning activities that stimulate learning.

* Developed by Michelene Chi, who was at the Learning Research and Development Center from 1975-2008, the ICAP framework characterizes learning opportunities in terms of overt learning activities. (Chi is currently a Regents Professor, and Dorothy Bray Endowed Professor of Science and Teaching at Arizona State University.) Passive learning (the lowest level), occurs when learners read feedback but make no revisions. Active learning involves physical activity, such as highlighting sections of the feedback. Constructive can be said to occur when a student provides feedback with suggestions on how to improve the writing. Interactive activities occur when learners share information beyond what is learned.

Wu, Y. & Schunn, C. D. (2023). Passive, active, and constructive engagement with peer feedback A revised model of learning from peer feedback. Contemporary Educational Psychology.

For Further Reading

Wu, Y. & Schunn, C. D. (2023). Assessor writing performance on peer feedback: Exploring the relation between assessor writing performance, problem identification accuracy, and helpfulness of peer feedback. Journal of Educational Psychology.

Zong, Z., Schunn, C. D., & Wang, Y. (2021). What aspects of online peer feedback robustly predict growth in students' task performance? Computers in Human Behavior.

Wu, Y. & Schunn, C. D. (2021). The effects of providing and receiving peer feedback on writing performance and learning of secondary school students. American Educational Research Journal.

Wu, Y. & Schunn, C. D. (2020). When peers agree, do students listen? The central role of feedback quality and feedback frequency in determining uptake of feedback. Contemporary Educational Psychology.