Thoughts on peer review

A combination of intensive marking, reviewing and discussion of peer review has formed a few thoughts associated with peer review …

On rubric led feedback

Rubrics are useful as they in some way at least set the ground rules for feedback – for example ensuring that feedback remains about technical aspects, clarity and meaning and not about the writer (this I recall was a concern of Wallace & Poulson, 2003). They make explicit the areas on which feedback can be expected, and if used in the construction of work they can act as another source of guidance. In some ways perhaps rubrics help objectify and depersonalise the feedback. This may be good and bad! It’s great for transparent quality processes but sometimes perhaps can detach emotional dimensions from reading.

The rubrics as a product of words can be open to different interpretations (I should imagine more so across cultures). Perhaps dialogue around the use of rubrics is a must to ensure mutual understanding.

Feeding back on other people’s writing is both an art and a science, the rubric can be a useful guide but it could also be stifling if used in a restrictive way. I fear that rubrics used too zealously (perhaps as a consequence of the mood of transparency) erode individuality in the process.

On reviewer – reviewee relationships

Cowan and Chiu (2009) tell of the experience of the reviewed and the reviewer in an exchange of peer review critique.

· The reviewer was concerned not to cause offence and seemed to seek to explain his comments especially where, across different cultures there was a fear, or an awareness, of inadvertently causing offence with terminology and phrase (Exacerbated by virtual exchanges being used)
· The reviewer noted the importance of facilitating the ideas of the writer and not imposing his own ways of how things should be done
· The reviewer was keen to receive the feedback and welcomed critical input; the feedback was received openly and with respect for the time given to review

And from this we can draw….
Trust and respect is a pre-requisite for peer review. An assumption of good intent by the recipient and a degree of sensitivity by the reviewer seems to underpin useful exchange.
Whilst the setting was a peer review journal – the lessons could carry to student feedback.

Rules of engagement for review and feedback

Wallace and Poulson (2003, p.6) outline of what being critical actual means – points included open-mindedness and being constructive, respectful and questioning. Their points appear to translate into rules of engagement for review – they read like a brief of good sportsmanship in the context of peer review.

By opting into the process either by submitting work for review or by becoming a reviewer do we opt in to play by a set of (hazy and perhaps tacit) rules or principles? If so then perhaps it would be helpful for novice reviewers (and some experienced ones too) to have these made explicit. Invisible rules are pretty hard to play by!

Cowan, J. and Y.-C. Chiu (2009). “A critical friend from BJET?” British Journal of Educational Technology 40(1): 58-60.

Wallace, M. and L. Poulson (2003). Learning to read critically in educational leadership and management, Sage Publications.

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