Computer-Aided Peer Review of Writing
MacLeod, Laura, Business Communication Quarterly
Peer reviews are a common activity in classes that require writing assignments, especially business communication classes. Traditionally, students complete checklists or rating forms to conduct their review, or they talk face to face with their peers (Lynch & Golen, 1992). In an effort to enhance the process, I integrated two computer applications into my class: newsgroups and specialized communication client software. This article provides background information on both computer approaches, suggests preparatory activities, provides the steps for conducting the review, and summarizes students' comments on the process.
Two Computer Applications for Peer Review
As background, let me briefly discuss the two applications we tested in class. Learning such applications has the added benefit of helping students prepare for long distance collaboration, an increasingly important element in a business career. On-the-job writing teams use newsgroups and client communication software to share ideas across the country and around the world.
First, we used a newsgroup, which is a public bulletin board where users can read, reply to, and post messages for other Internet users. More than 15,000 Internet newsgroups cover the widest possible range of topics. People use newsgroups to share information about hobbies and interests and post questions for others to answer. In an academic setting, faculty and students use newsgroups to conduct review sessions before tests, post journal article abstracts so students can share research efforts, and discuss problems and solutions to long-term group assignments.
An established newsgroup can provide an excellent resource for students to research topics related to class. But to conduct peer reviews, faculty have to set up a dedicated newsgroup for each class. It may be possible for other students to post messages to that group, but the access can be denied to users outside the college or university. Faculty should negotiate the length of time messages remain posted and thus establish rules for automatic deletion. Extensive guidelines for using newsgroups are available on the Web (Hobson square Designs, 1998).
Second, we tested NetMeeting, a popular freeware application easily downloaded from Microsoft's Website (www.microsoft.com/netmeeting/). Such applications offer "real time" communication or "teleconferencing" between two or among many users, who share audio or text-based comments through the chat function. The software also provides a whiteboard for users to draw on and allows users to share applications and transfer files. A tutorial on the Website provides guidelines for conducting all these functions.
Other communication client software is also available. Stroud's Resource Center (1998) reviews many of these. Some emulate telephones (Internet Phone, WebPhone, and VDOPhone); others, like NetMeeting, provide text-based chat applications (PowWow, WinTalk, and WS Chat).
Advantages and Disadvantages
The major advantage of a newsgroup is that messages can be posted, read, and responded to at the writer's and reader's convenience. As in an e-mail system, the messages wait. A potential disadvantage, however, is that every student in the class can read every message. While students can learn by reading the critiques of other letters or memos, this feature can also cause reviewers to limit negative comments and be self conscious about what they write. In addition, students must have a hardcopy of the assignment to look at as they comment, since the newsgroup format does not lend itself easily to reproducing text.
Because it is a real-time application, NetMeeting requires both the writer and the reviewer to agree on a time to chat. Finding such a time may be difficult. But once arranged, a NetMeeting session has several advantages. Communication tends to flow more freely and spontaneously, since the system allows for give-and-take. …