Cultivating student creativity is more and more being touted as a fundamental objective of education. We are also hearing more and more about the benefits of peer review activities for student learning. However, some have claimed that peer review of student work dampens creativity (Hurlburt, 2008). They argue that student anxiety about how they will appear to others tends to cause them to withdraw into producing less risky work.
Can peer review coexist with creativity? The answer is yes. Liu (2016) and fellow researchers recently found that peer review actually improves student creativity when done correctly. They set up a digital storytelling activity that required one group of students to provide feedback on each other's work and another group to create the stories without receiving feedback from others. The researchers found that the group receiving feedback outperformed the other group on a variety of measures, including overall quality, accuracy, and creativity of their work. Moreover, those who provided feedback also improved their own work.
Another benefit of peer review found in the study was that it helped students better understand their own creativity. Students were asked a series of questions after the activity to measure their creative self-efficacy, essentially their knowledge of their own creativity. Their scores where then compared to the actual creativity demonstrated in their works. The group without peer feedback showed no correlation between the two, while the students in the peer review group showed a match between their self-perception of their creativity and their actual creativity. This coheres with other studies that have found that creative self-efficacy is heavily influenced by social interactions. In other words, we learn about our own creativity from others.
But the most important aspect of the study was that the group providing peer feedback was given a rubric to guide their commentary. This, it appears, is critical to channeling peer feedback in a positive direction. Unfortunately, the researchers did not provide more information about why this is the case, but we might speculate that a rubric helped keep the feedback on task and helpful to the student. The rubric might prevent the feedback from drifting into commentary that could be taken poorly by the student and thus cause him or her to withdraw.
This study suggests that faculty members using peer review can benefit by providing students with some instruction on how to provide feedback to their fellow students. Too often I see faculty simply tell students to provide commentary on each other's work, or just give word count parameters, without any direction on the form of that commentary. It is easy to forget that students are not used to providing one another with commentary. Some might even become too timid in fear of hurting another student's feelings.
One option is to have students apply the same rubric that you use to evaluate student work. You can make a short screencast of yourself applying feedback to a sample student work. Draw up the rubric on the screen and talk through how you interpret each category and also demonstrate how it is applied to an assignment and what you would say to a student. This gives the students a sense of direction and confidence to guide their own feedback.
Students can be given the rubric as a Word document with tables. Students pick the box in each category that they think applies to other students' work, shades it in, and then provides commentary on what they saw within the work that led them to the judgement. The intermediary of the rubric puts needed personal distance between the students, which can remove some of the anxiety suffered by reviewer and receiver alike.
Students can even make screencasts of themselves applying the rubric using software such as Jing. The student pulls up both the rubric and the other student's assignment on the screen, talks about which box they put the work in for each category and why, and goes back into the assignment to show where they found particular elements that led them to their choices. The student uploads the result to Jing's free hosting site and sends the other student the link. This makes the feedback more like a conversation than a grading activity.
Including a rubric and instructions on how to apply it will ensure that the peer feedback is used by students to support, rather than judge, one another. Faculty should explain that good feedback is given with an eye towards helping the other person see how they can improve their performance. Students should be told to not just find problems but also to suggest solutions, and they will go out of their way to help one another see ways to improve.
Hurlburt, S. (2008). Defining tools for a new learning space: Writing and reading class blogs. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4(2), 182–189.
Liu, C. C., Lu, K. H., Wu, L. Y., & Tsai, C. C. (2016). The impact of peer review on creative self-efficacy and learning performance in Web 2.0 learning activities. Educational Technology & Society, 19(2), 286–297.