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The credibility of students as peer resources

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 192-198)

5.3 Case Study Two Findings

5.3.3 Occupying the Role of Knowledge Resource The credibility of students as peer resources

The findings indicate that there was clearly some pedagogical value in exposing the students to a range of perspectives and experiences around the text under study (for example, a critical review or argumentative essay). In terms of receiving feedback from her peers, Student One (Group B) expressed an appreciation for receiving feedback from other students and there were instances when she received thoughtful and detailed feedback comments from her peers which she found valuable. Even though the students often devalued comments from their peers, they reported reflecting upon the merits of feedback comments against their own understanding.

Additionally, by expecting the students to create their own text and then critique the work of a peer, the learning activity raised student consciousness about the pertinent characteristics of the text. All these opportunities led to a degree of processing of course content by the students as they viewed and reviewed key characteristics of texts such as reports, proposals, and critical reviews.

In addition, the students functioned as useful resources by providing models of the text under study and of peer feedback. Students One and Two (Group B) examined texts posted by other students for both content and structure.

Researcher: And what did you learn from looking at other people‟s feedback Student Two: It‟s, I think all their structure is the same, they start with a good like „oh it‟s good and good‟ and then they start with, and then they go onto improvements, and then they finish with “I think it will turn out to be a great essay.” It‟s always the same, so I just did the same thing. (Student 2/Account 1)

Thus, there is data to indicate that the students did consider their peers to be credible in the role of resource.

However, the data analysis offers mixed findings in relation to the credibility of students as resources. The peer feedback learning task (learning object) was characterised by a distribution of cognition amongst the students. As the teachers moved from the centre to the sidelines, the students were expected to occupy the role of resource for each other.

The requirement is that you too are not just a student, but you are also moving into this role of taking the responsibility of giving useful feedback which is more than a student role in a sense, you‟re not a teacher either, but in a collaborative writing context, which may well happen in the work place, you know, you work collaboratively. (Teacher 1/Interview 2)

The teacher‘s pedagogy was predicated on the assumption that the students would view their peers as having something to contribute that they lacked; however, a significant amount of the data suggest that this assumption was problematic. At best, the students held mixed feelings about their peers‘ ability to give them useful feedback; at worst, they discounted the peer feedback task as a worthless exercise.

Students One and Three (Group A) viewed themselves as being in the middle to top of the class in ability, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, showed a tendency to discount work from other students. Student One believed feedback should come from a

―superior,‖ namely, a person who is perceived as more expert such as a teacher.

Perhaps I‟m not prepared to use the, because I don‟t have any trust on that person [another student]…because psychologically I also feel he‟s also in my, we all in the same boat studying, I‟m not perhaps prepared to accept the feedback of that person. (Student 1/Interview 2)

Likewise, Student Three appeared quite detached from the process of feedback, believing that his writing competency was higher than his classmates and they had little to offer him in the way of new information. He showed scant interest in reading

feedback given to him by other students, particularly in relation to positive or vague feedback comments.

When I do receive feedback, it is usually positive, with the phrases “nice work”

and “your essay shows clear structure” given in mostly all feedbacks. However, I feel that the feedback I receive is not effective at all. The criticisms I receive are not specific enough and usually I disregard the feedback as a whole. (Student 3/Reflective Task/Week 6)

Student Two (Group B) echoed Student Three‘s sentiments, expressing particular irritation with positive feedback from peers which lacked any critical component.

Even Student One (Group B), arguably the student who valued the feedback task the most, became cynical as the course progressed – questioning the commitment of her peers.

Researcher: You feeling OK about [the LMS] overall?

Student 1: Not really, at first I think it quite good idea, but then I realise that not all the people are doing it. I‟m not sure they can‟t be bothered or they just don‟t know and yeah. (Student 1/Group B/Account 3)

The expectation that the students could function as resources for each other was threatened and the credibility of the peer feedback activity was diminished if the students did not believe their peers capable of contributing understandings of writing which they lacked. The data suggest that the students struggled to consider their peers as more experienced or more knowledgeable others who could provide trustworthy information to support their learning.

Not only did the students distrust their peers in the role of resource, they also expressed insecurities in their own abilities:

I don‟t really like doing peer feedback … because I don‟t know, I don‟t mind reading other people‟s stuff, but I don‟t like giving them comments about it … because there‟s just nothing to say and you have to find something to say … sometimes theirs is just too good and you can‟t think of anything bad to say … and you have to make something up, and sometimes theirs is just too bad that you can‟t comment on anything good about it … yeah, it‟s hard. (Student 2/Group B/

Account 1)

Similar sentiments are expressed by an ENL (English as a Native Language) student (not a core participant) who asserted ―I don‟t like to give feedback on people‟s work because I barely know what I am doing myself and am definitely not qualified to tell someone else they are doing it wrong‖ (Online Observation 9). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the degree of insecurity felt by the students appeared to be directly related to their confidence levels regarding the text under study. For example, they felt more confident giving feedback on the proposal text which had a formulaic structure rather than giving feedback on the critical review which involved the interweaving of summary and critique

In addition to the cognitive demands of offering and receiving feedback, the students appeared to struggle affectively. Three of the four student participants were concerned about providing incorrect feedback, being misinterpreted by others, offending other students, and potentially jeopardizing relationships. Student One (Group A/Interview 2) stated to his peers ―I don‟t like to say bad about you and I feel really embarrassed.‖ During observations of online activity, it was noted that a congenial atmosphere prevailed and was manifested by the use of softening devices such as hedges (for example, ―I think‖ and ―just‖), expressions of goodwill (for example, ―keep up your good work‖), and positive comments with an absence of constructive comment. An example of a lack of critique is illustrated below:

hey (name), i think your critical review was really good. you had a very good introduction where you included a thesis statement and stated the points you will be making about the article, you gave a good summary of her points and then gave your opinion about them, backing up your comment with good examples.

Your conclusion is just as good as your intro. once again restating your opinion and review of the article. (Online Observation 7/Student 2 – Group B/Week 6)

This struggle to offer critique was noted by Tutor One:

They had to critique somebody‟s outline … most of them are not very good at the specific detail, you know a specific critique … at all. Some of them did general “gosh that was absolutely amazing, I hope you do well in your essay.” Some of them were

general, you know “you‟ve done a good job, I liked your ideas, perhaps that idea won‟t work.” (Tutor 1/Account 1)

She added:

The peer feedback, we don‟t teach them enough about peer feedback and they‟re not critically aware enough for that to be of real value. And they have, well, that‟s possibly not fair, that may develop to become more valued, but they‟re all very scared of saying things that aren‟t nice. And the idea of, you know, telling someone they‟ve made a mistake is very difficult for them. (Tutor 1/Interview 1)

The data suggest a tension between the need for the students to maintain social relationships both inside and outside the classroom, and the need to offer a critical perspective that provides constructive and substantive comments. This tension was aptly described by an ENL student (not a key participant).

With the class forum posting system, where every class member sees your feedback, I neither want to sound like a nagging know-it-all (knowing that my own writing is definitely not free of error) nor a Two-thumbs-up smiley face. I am convinced that I am not the only student sharing these sentiments; it is very possible that the student who provided me with feedback was merely being diplomatic. While class forum does have some positives, I believe the social diplomacy stands in the way of the system realising its full potential. (Reflective Journal Week 6)

The use of the term social diplomacy is interesting, alluding to less sophisticated beliefs about the notion of critique. By advancing a dichotomy between the ―nagging know-it-all‖ and the ―two thumbs-up smiley face,‖ there is a sense that the student lacked a deeper and richer understanding of critique. The student revealed an acute sense of vulnerability, reluctant to offer critique when she does not consider herself qualified to do so, but also reluctant to avoid critique and paint an overly positive (and potentially inaccurate) picture of another‘s work. Moreover, the comment suggests that this sense of vulnerability was heightened because of the online environment which publically displayed the feedback. A tension existed between the intimate nature of giving candid and honest feedback to another student and the teacher‘s objective to provide access to a range of experiences around the text under study through the virtual communal space.

As discussed above, the students often struggled with the cognitive and affective demands of giving useful feedback to their peers. In addition, a number of students dampened the collective spirit of the learning activity by providing multiple feedback postings to the same student (rather than selecting a different student who had received no feedback as the teacher expected). This led to some students receiving many feedback comments for their work, while some students received none. It was rare for the EAL students to give feedback to someone who had received it; however, they were all affected by this practice through the actions of their classmates. For example, in weeks four, six and eleven, Student Two (Group B) did not receive feedback. In contrast, during Week Six, Student One (Group A) received five feedback postings in one week. It was apparent that some students were unhappy when they did not receive feedback. Student Four (an EAL student who was not one of the four core EAL student participants) received erratic feedback and expressed feelings of marginalisation and inadequacy in her journal posting.

Because it is already week five, and no one has done any feedback on me ... I have not gotten any feedback from anyone, so I can not say how regular it is and how effective it is. The reason people do not give me any feedback probably they think my English is bad, which I think it is true. (Student 4/Week 6/Reflective Journal)

The practice of multiple postings to the same individual was another eroding force which affected the credibility of the task for some of the students. The reciprocal nature of the learning activity – the giving and receiving of feedback – was violated.

Students would provide feedback to others, and yet they may not receive feedback in return. Moreover, the practice was tolerated by Tutor One who did not intervene and continued to award marks to the students.

In summary, while the findings indicate that the students did, at times, value each other as resources, the findings often show that the students were unable or unwilling to share or build understanding with other students in the peer feedback activity. A

significant amount of data suggests that the students were simply not credible in the role of resource.

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 192-198)