Department of Psychology
Susan A. Nolan
Department of Psychology
Peer Review of Research Papers in the Psychology Capstone Course: Professor Perspectives
Seminar in Psychology is the capstone course for the psychology major. Traditionally, the small discussion-based course focuses on enhancing research and communication skills via empirical articles related to a specific topic in psychology. At the beginning of the semester, students pick a specific topic within the semester’s overall theme. For the primary assignments in the course, students write an empirical paper [either a literature review (BA students) or research proposal (BS students)], and deliver a formal presentation based on their topic. We typically scaffold these assignments, particularly the paper, by assigning a range of stages over the semester.
In our Digital Humanities project, we added a peer-review component for each stage in order to further develop students’ written and oral communication skills, and to include collaborative skills as a course objective. Students were divided into small groups of 3-4 classmates with whom they worked throughout the semester. We used Salon in the fall semester, but professors and students alike complained about its clunky interface and frequent glitches. In the spring, we used Sharepoint – not a glamorous tech solution, but a workhorse that allowed for the interaction we imagined. Working in their groups, each student posted each stage of their paper – two iterations of a reference list, a summary of one article, summaries of all articles, two iterations of an outline, a draft paper, and the final paper. They also posted a draft version of their presentation.
For each of these components, group members were tasked with making at least three substantive comments on their classmates’ work, citing specific advice (including a page number) from the assigned texts on writing these types of papers. During class time, we discussed and modeled providing quality feedback on classmates’ work and provided opportunities to workshop their submissions with their group members. Students reported that they benefited directly from their peers’ feedback, indirectly from having to think about the expectations of the assignment as they reviewed their peers’ work, and indirectly from being able to see others’ “take” on the assignments. In effect, seeing others’ approaches was a helpful reality check.
Although Sharepoint was not a perfect platform, we will continue to use it, or other technology as it emerges, to support a collaborative classroom and help students learn from each other.
Peer Review of Research Papers in the Psychology Capstone Course: Student Perspectives
Student #1 (Dr. Fisher’s course)
I am grateful for the opportunity to work so closely with my peers throughout the semester in my Seminar in Psychology course with Dr. Paige Fisher. Researching and writing our literature reviews was challenging since we had limited experience in this area but bouncing ideas off one another and getting another’s point of view proved to be especially beneficial for me personally. Sometimes it is difficult to separate myself from my writing during the revision process. However, discussing my thoughts helped my peers and I to have honest, productive conversations to improve clarity and relevance in our writing. The peer-review process allowed me to view my writing from another’s perspective and made me feel more comfortable asking for feedback on my work.
Lastly, I enjoyed using Sharepoint as the digital platform for the peer-review process because it allows students to upload their word documents directly into the program. Once it was uploaded, it was very easy to read and comment on others’ writing as well as review the comments on my own documents. Throughout the semester, I often referred back to my comments to ensure that I was making the necessary corrections to enhance the quality of my writing. Therefore, I am appreciative for the experience of working on Sharepoint with my peers because it allowed me to improve my research and writing techniques as well as my collaboration skills.
Student #2 (Dr. Nolan’s course)
Seminar in Psychology, the capstone course for Psychology majors, is a course that may initially seem quite daunting due to the major assignments that are required for successful completion; however, the peer-review component via SharePoint was a considerable help along each step of the way.
The feedback offered to me by my group members and the examples that were presented by fellow classmates were both crucial aspects to the positive outcome of my finalized assignments. Additionally, the suggestions I gave indirectly strengthened my work since I was able to notice a trend in merits and/or faults from a different perspective, which I then translated into my own assignment. There was an array of substantial topics covered throughout our individual projects, therefore it was extremely helpful for someone with a blind eye to make comments through this medium on the technicalities (e.g., formatting, comprehension, etc.) which may have been overlooked otherwise. Also, I can speak for myself that posting each stage of the assignment on a digital forum is what motivated me to submit my best work, as I was aware that my classmates might look upon it as an example for their own projects.
Although our chosen topics ranged significantly, I think it’s safe to say that we collectively benefitted from each other in many ways through the peer-review component of this course. I can’t imagine completing the required assignments as effectively without the structure that was offered through SharePoint along with the examples, evaluations, and critiques given by my professor and classmates that helped me to advance through each stage with ease. My experience, overall, was exceptionally positive.
Student #3 (Dr. Fisher’s course)
My name is Spoorthi Datla and I am a recent graduate of Seton Hall University. This past semester, I took a senior seminar class with Dr. Paige Fisher, and a large focus of this class was using peer reviews. The people in my class were separated into small groups, and these groups were used almost weekly in terms of reviewing our progress towards our semester long literature review paper and presentations. Group members had the responsibility of reviewing each other’s work before each class and give comments with either helpful criticism or compliments. Groups also met in and out of the classroom at different stages of the class and assignment to go over the comments made more in depth as well as provide more insight. To me, the peer collaboration was not something I was completely familiar with, but I really appreciated it.
The peer review done in my seminar class helped me improve my research, writing, and presenting skills during my seminar class. Having the opinions of my classmates on my work gave me a different perspective and helped me find flaws in my work that I had not previously seen. Having other people offer insight was also very important when it came to writing my final paper because not everyone thinks the same, and my groupmates helped me come with an organization that flowed way better than I could have ever done on my own. It also helped to be able to have people to practice my presentation in front of, before doing it for real. I was able to receive comments on making eye contact, which points to emphasize from my paper, and gain confidence by repeatedly going through my presentation. A majority of the peer review we did was through SharePoint. This was my first-time using SharePoint and I thought it was a very helpful tool. Navigating the website was very easy and it was easy to both upload and download works. SharePoint allowed you to comment on specific parts of assignments and have multiple people working on it once, and to me the best part was when you later downloaded it, all the changes showed up in word so you could use Microsoft or SharePoint to edit. Both SharePoint and peer review helped me this past semester, and they are definitely tools I will be continuing to use in the future.
Student #4 (Dr. Nolan’s class)
For this past spring semester’s Seminar in Psychology course, we utilized Sharepoint. Sharepoint was extremely helpful in the way that it allowed me to view my professor’s comments on my classmates’ assignments and also read my classmates’ comments on my work directly from the document. I found it extremely helpful how members of my group were able to comment straight onto my Word document, whether it was about advice on sentence structure or an unclear concept. This way I could directly pinpoint where specifically my assignment could be improved. Also, being able to see the corrections and advice my professor gave on my classmates’ work helped me adjust mine accordingly instead of continuously asking. These features were even more beneficial when our professor projected Sharepoint in our class meetings and went through someone’s submission. Whether it was my document being projected or another person’s, hearing feedback about what could be improved made me feel more prepared to write/edit my own appropriately. As a class, we grew and built off the feedback of one another. Though the program did lag occasionally, overall, it facilitated a collaborative and helpful class dynamic.