Peer review has been a traditional activity in the writing classroom as a way to encourage students to not only produce writing but also learning how to evaluate them. There are studies that confirm the reliability of student reviews, giving confidence to their use as complementary to instructor’s evaluation.
However, for many years, peer reviews have relied on conventional means of reading and writing, i.e., papers and pens, to accomplish the task. It wasn’t until more recently that instructors from the field of computers and composition have taken interests in digitalizing the peer review process using newer technologies such as mobile computers and online learning management systems. With more innovative technologies being produced and popularized today, I see greater opportunities for instructors today to think outside the conventional approaches to engage students in the writing process.
Augmented Writing: A Glass-supported Peer Review
Early this semester, I joined a wearable technology research team to study the potential affordances of new wearable devices — such as Google Glass, Fitbit, smartwatches, etc — in writing and technical communication pedagogy. As part of my research, I am deploying, workshopping, and experimenting Google Glass in my first-year writing class as ways to scrutinize the promises and perils of such extravagant technology. Specifically, I am interested in how Glass can be used to enhance student peer reviews. To the end of this motivation, I have developed a rationale for using Glass as part of the feedback mechanism:
Google Glass affords a new dimension to our writing experience by augmenting the writing and revision processes. While a traditional peer review requires students to review the writings of other student writers’ and respond to prompts given by the instructors, such practice is driven mainly by the written texts. Using Glass, students could track comments and editing suggestions through video recording. Reviewers may indicate places in the writing where revisions are recommended by snapping a picture or recording the suggestions in video. These images and videos could be sent to the respective writers after the review session. Such affordance adds value to the review process, one that enriches writer-reviewer exchange and collaboration.
Depending on the number of students in a class, the instructor may decide to have students paired up or to conduct the peer review individually. In my case, I loaned each student a pair of Glass and had them review one student paper over a period of 30 minutes (out of a 75-minute session). Along with Glass and student drafts, each student reviewer is also given a set of prompts that guide their review process. The following are simple instructions that were given to students to facilitate the review process:
- Put on Glass and start recording a video. See tutorials attached for ways to extend a video recording.
- Make sure the lens reflects a recording that’s close to the reading level.
- Start by announcing your name and the author’s name, something like: “I am Jason, and I am now reviewing Justin’s first major writing assignment.”
- Then, continue by “thinking aloud” as you review the paper. You don’t have to talk all the way through the paper, but remember to verbalize your thoughts on different parts of the paper as guided by the peer review prompts provided by the instructor.
- Fill out the reviewer sheet as you go. Don’t keep it until you have finished recording to fill them out.
- Once you are done reviewing a paper, announce that you have completed that review process: “That’s all I have for you, Justin. I have finished reviewing your essay.”
- Stop the recording. Be careful not to delete the recorded video by accident.
- Turn Glass off and return it to your instructor. Your instructor will let you know when you should return the reviewer sheets to their respective student authors. Don’t return them until you are told to do so, as other students might still be recording their reviews.
Glass in Action
On Feb. 12, we conducted our first Glass-mediated peer review. Overall, students did very well on their first try and the footages turned out great. I have compiled a short video clip below to show the review process in action.
A New Dimension to Writing Pedagogy
Recently, Steve Kolowich of The Chronicle of Higher Education explored the uses of videos in the writing classroom by asking this question: Could video feedback replace the red pen? In his report, the Australian instructors find that video feedback to student writings offer a similar intimacy as in-person feedback “in a less-ephemeral way.” By incorporating Glass into the peer review process, my hope is to investigate the usefulness of video feedback as advocated.
The results from my first Glass deployment on Feb. 12 seem encouraging. Although there were some hiccups in the facilitation of using it in peer review — as expected — the overall outcome indicates a positive response from the students. More importantly, in addition to satisfaction, Glass seems to be capable of reconfiguring the writing process by giving it an extra dimension that is an asynchronous presence of the reviewer in the revision process. This adds value to the critiques produced for the writer as they are no longer just fleshless comments but embodied feedback that takes verbal, nonverbal, and para-verbal/gestural communication into considerations. In other words, the comments can now be read in context.
In the coming weeks I will continue to deploy Google Glass during peer review sessions and I will reflect on the experiences as they occur. As the body of research on video-based, and especially, wearables-enhanced feedback remains limited, I would like to hear from scholars and practitioners who have/are working with Glass or other wearable devices to share your experiences, opinions, ideas, or comments with me. I would appreciate all the feedback (video or not) I can get!
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