Breaking Down Blogs

Doris Dippold (2009). Peer Feedback Through Blogs: Student and teacher perceptions in an advanced German class. ReCALL, 21 , pp 18-36

Article Review

With the proliferation of virtual learning platforms and the increasing accessibility of Web 2.0 authorship, the standalone blog may no longer be the object of intrigue it once was to educators. Yet the challenge of using blogs to rethink and redesign student assessment remains significant. In her study of an advanced German language class at a British university, Dippold (2009) asks if peer feedback in the class blog succeeded as an adjunct mode of assessment.

As a whole, the class’ blog experiment (which lasted only one term) yielded some benefits, such as improving collaboration and class cohesion, but did not result in a robust, ongoing dialogue of peer review. Rarely did feedback (e.g. a comment)  morph into an extensive and inclusive dialogue. Students enjoyed being afforded perspectives on their work other than that of the teacher, but felt insecure or inadequate about critiquing or engaging with others’ blog posts. They expressed a “perceived lack of expertise, lack of specific guidance on how to give feedback and a fear of imposing” on their peers. This finding complicates that of Nicol and MacFarlane-Dick (2006), that peer review typically benefited the provider rather than the recipient of feedback. Moreover, the blog comments often shrank in size as well as quality if the German instructor had commented first, reinforcing Hewings’ and Coffin’s emphasis on the (altered) role of the tutor as a facilitator in a blog as opposed to a classroom (2007).

Dippold concedes that the project’s major shortcoming was that students were not trained to provide any sort of feedback, online or otherwise. While she identifies the key elements of such training for peer review in a blog, she does not further elaborate on what such training would look like.

Relevance to the EdLab!

Writing curricula for teachers that aim to more fully integrate blogs into course curricula through assessment is an important endeavor here at the EdLab (particularly with Understanding Fiscal Responsibility in mind). While the above course’s use of blogs might already seem slightly reductive (why mandate comments and close the blog off from the rest of the interweb?), the notion that engaging your peers’ online work requires training is nonetheless an interesting one. How well do the social, affective, and analytical elements of classroom, or face-to-face, peer review translate to a virtual setting? Maybe the EdLab’s recent presentation at the ICELW could offer some insight.