Can Online Peer Review Assignments Replace Essays in Third Year University Courses? And if so, What are the Challenges? pp147-158
Essays are a traditional component of the course requirements in many post‑secondary courses. However, the practical and pedagogical disadvantages of essays are significant. These include the increasing ease with which essays can be plagiarized, the lack of peer involvement in the traditional essay submission and feedback process, the usual lack of meaningful instructor‑student intellectual discourse in the essay development and feedback process, and the inability to include hyperlinks and non‑text media in essays submitted on paper. It is suggested that as instructors make the transition from traditional to blended/online instruction, they consider jettisoning the traditional essay requirement and replace it with some form of “assignment essay/peer review” system such as the one described. Contemporary Learning Management Systems facilitate peer review and peer assessment approaches in ways that were not available in traditional offline education. This paper describes and discusses an online assignment system utilizing peer commentaries that addresses many of the shortcomings of these traditional essay requirement. The system is modeled after peer commentary academic journals such as Behavioral and Brain Sciences and Current Anthropology. This system has successfully been used as a substitute for the traditional essay requirement in a number of third year psychology course sections platformed on both Moodle and Blackboard. The advantages, challenges and practicalities of instituting, managing and grading such peer‑reviewed assignments are outlined, and the benefits of the system in terms of student engagement, intellectual modeling, and learning community enhancement are discussed. The peer reviewed assignment system is discussed in the context of recent research indicating some advantages of blended learning approaches compared to traditional approaches. Criticisms of peer feedback approaches are examined, and instructors are encouraged to provide students with detailed instructions and criteria regarding the peer review process. It is hoped that the discussion will be particularly useful to instructors who are in the process of moving from traditional face‑to‑face course context to the blended/online education environment.