Student Peer Review

Activating Online Social Habits to Cultivate Academic Collegiality

Artistic practice and creative thinking thrive in a community of collegiality, critique, and peer review.  With the rise of the digital in art making, the social component of the studio artist has been sacrificed in the virtual setting. Visual Arts 110 went through a renewed structure of curriculum delivery by way of a “blended” classroom for skill based learning, which further emphasized the digital environment’s contribution to the act of making.  I wondered, how could virtual engagement also set the scene for cultivating collegiality? In an aim to transform social media habits, the class used ComPAIR to activate online communication tools into a generative focus on the learning benefits that a community can bring to one’s practice.

The digital, of which this class focus’ on, is social and personable in very different spaces than those of the course material.  In order to facilitate student collegiality and community in the digital medium, the second phase of converting the class into a blended environment, I  introduced a Peer Review component to the course on ComPAIR, a UBC-created software.


Class Structure:

VISA 110 consists of a weekly one-hour lecture and two-hour lab which you must be enrolled in, and as it is a “flipped” classroom there is also approximately an hour of online weekly tutorials.  There are approximately 480 students enrolled in the course per year in three sections.

Motivation for Peer Review: 

Top three reasons why I was motivated to incorporate Peer Review/Critique:

  1. In the Visual Arts, collegial feedback, and a belonging social atmosphere is very important to the growth of a practice. The digital medium cultivated a vacuous mind-set, where students were looking at their screens rather than each other, and missing an integral component of studio practice. How could digital mediums used in the course be used to cultivate social behaviours towards critical collegiality?
  2. Over the years, certain students would have revelatory experiences during critiques, as they looked at and evaluated each other’s finished works in a gallery style class critique. I wanted to have this revelation happen before the project was due.
    How could students go through the experience of viewing their peer’s work before it is due?
  3. Students are prone to insecurity, feeling it was “not enough” and therefore adding in irrelevant elements that distracted rather than supported, their concept. This was obvious to them during a critique, as distractions took over the real point of the project was overlooked.  How could students receive thoughtful feedback about the way their work is communicating, before it is due?

Cultivating Collegiality:

My main goal was to use peer review/critique as a process aimed at cultivating rigorous collegiality. I knew I had to defend myself from the conventional structures of allocating numbers on a rubric to grade each other; I had to find another way.  I needed to offer a process that would give students an opportunity to discuss work as they are making it, give, receive and consider helpful advice as the exchange, and see their peers as colleagues towards common growth.  After thoughtfully reading two works as comparisons, the feedback text box in ComPAIR facilitates this approach.  The process needed to encourage constructive criticism to be seen as a way to influence the revisions and evolution of the potential of work, instead of a final appraisal of what’s been done, which also emphasized the importance of revisions. As well, engaging in peer review as an active learning technique of “teaching others” is a proven teaching methodology.


Methods:

The way in which I activated peer reviews/critiques as a collegiality building exercise was by the decisions in my execution.

  • I conducted a lecture activity in which I “trained” students how to approach and critique artwork. I had comparisons set up for students to analyze, and in groups they filled out a step-by-step worksheet of their approach and resulting conclusions.  I then gave them the exact prompts that would be in ComPAIR to re-approach the same sample work, and to come up with helpful feedback.
  • Peer reviews/critiques took place before projects were due, so there was enough time to make changes.
  • Prompt questions were carefully delivered to direct students to a particular way of looking
  • Comparisons grounded the abstract or theoretical “successes” into particular details of the work.
  • Feedback was written, not a numerical scale, so students could provide suggestions, ask questions for areas they felt were unresolved, or other descriptive input in order to help their peers, rather than judge them.

Samples:

  • To view lecture pre-exercise workshop training, and project peer review online prompts, please click here
  • The following is a screenshot of student, Robin Changizi’s critique on his peer’s work before the project was due.  The feedback provided to the artists is in the text box, the comparisons are to start them thinking about what constitutes a successful project.  Both the students submitting their work, as well as critiquing, are anonymous unless they decide to disclose their name themselves.  Click on image to enlarge.


Reflection:

Overall the online peer critiques were very effective.  In term-end survey assessment, students contributed much success to them in comparison to the ‘old’ method of feedback as an afterthought after the project was due.  However, this was not an instant reaction, while they enjoyed looking at other’s works, they did not take recommendations as much as they could have.  I had two class projects for which I had them engage in peer review/critique, and for the first project they gave incredibly thoughtful feedback, it was impressive.  However, I noticed that the students did not actually make changes according to the feedback for their final submission.  When I announced in lecture that the average for the assignment would have probably went up 10% if they had listened to the great feedback they got, they must have gotten the hint because for the final project there were significant changes that aligned with the written suggestions.  I realized I needed to tell them earlier that their feedback is appropriate and thoughtful and need to somehow convince them to trust their peer’s feedback as useful, or at least come talk to me or their TA about it!