Sociology at the University of Strathclyde have redesigned some tasks in the first year to incorporate peer review. The course leader viewed peer review as a way of developing the students' ability to critique work and to think critically about the criteria that should be used to evaluate sociological ideas. Overall, he thought that through peer review, students would improve their ability to construct and evaluate logical arguments, a key skill in the discipline of sociology.  Peer review was also seen as a way of enhancing the feedback students' receive.


Department: Sociology

Module: First year basic sociology class (semester 2)

Students: 277

Task: In first year of sociology, one assignment requires that students create a poster portraying some important sociological concepts and ideas. Although students found this task engaging, the course leader found that they learned less from this than he had hoped in that they paid more attention to the graphics and format of the poster rather than to its sociological content or impact. The peer task was intended to address this issue and to help students produce better posters. The peer reviewing process took place before students produced their posters as a preparation activity. In the year of this study the topic for the poster was 'The sociology of the mobile phone' and students received lectures on how the mobile phone was raising issues about identity, about technology and about culture.

Peer Review: Students were first required to draft, individually a 300-word response to the following proposition: 'The mobile phone will undoubtedly lead to fundamental transformations in individual perceptions' of self and the world, and consequently the way they collectively construct that world'. Students could either agree or disagree with this statement or proposition but they were required to apply their sociological imagination and to think critically about the issue in their response. In effect, they were required to produce an argument for or against this proposition and to produce evidence in support of their argument noting potential objections and responding to these. The course leader provided some relevant readings and resources relevant to this issue.  

After posting their own submission within the Aropa Peer Review software students were required to produce feedback on the work of two other students, randomly allocated by the software. Hence, they both produced feedback reviews on the work of two students and received feedback reviews from two students. They did not know whose work they were reviewing nor who had reviewed their work. 

There were five criteria for the review task.  Students had to 1) comment on the quality of author's argument 2) comment on the convincingness of the argument saying what aspect was most convincing and why 3) comment on the quality and use of evidence to support the argument - this involved commenting on the credibility of the sources and the use of statistics 4) to comment on the author's ability to communicate and 5) make one single recommendation to the author that would improve the work. For criteria 1-4 the reviewer also had to rate the submission using a 1 to 4 scale with 1 being poor and 4 being excellent. 

More detail about the peer review task can be found here

After engaging in this peer review tasks students then produced a poster as a group (see above). Note that participation in the review task was compulsory and those who did not submit reviews received a zero mark for the poster assignment.which was worth 20% of the total marks for this first year class.

Evaluation: There was unanimous consensus by all tutors teaching this course that the posters in the year of this peer review task were of a much higher standard than those produced in previous year's. A survey evaluation was carried out as well as some focus group interviews to gather information about students' experiences of and learning from peer review.  102 students completed the survey.  A key finding was that the majority of students (66%) reported that the peer review task helped their team 'to complete the poster assignment'. Almost all students also reported that peer review helped them to learn - 52% reported learning from both giving and receiving feedback reviews, 29.7% reported learning only from producing feedback reviews and 11.9% reported learning only from receiving. This finding confirms those derived from the DMEM study which showed that peer review is a complex process and that the benefits from producing and receiving feedback reviews are quite different. In particular, these sociology students reported that reviewing others' work led them to reflect back and identify ways of improving their own work - this 'reflective process which involves students generating feedback on their own work without the help of a teacher' seems to be a defining characteristic of reviewing, as revealed across a number of evaluations. For more about sociology see full evaluation report and commentary here soon.

Software: Aropa developed by John Hamer

Course Leader: Dr William Dinan, Lecturer,  [Will has now moved to University of the West of Scotland where he continues to use peer review with his students]

Learning Technology contact: