This is the second post in a two-part series about how students can benefit from using the peer review process for assessment. The series is a collaboration between Les Kirkup, Angus Gentle, Jurgen Schulte and Neela Griffiths. You can read part one of the series here.

Below is a summary of Jurgen Schulte and Neela Griffith’s paper ‘Putting the Practical into Practice-based Learning’.

Schulte, J. & Griffiths, N. ‘Putting the Practical into Practice-based Learning’. Proceedings of the Australian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education, University of Sydney, Sept 29-30 2014, pages 163-169, ISBN Number 978-0-9871834-3-9.

Jurgen Schulte: Energy Science and Technology

Students in the subject Energy Science and Technology tried peer review during a semester-long group project. In small groups, students wrote scientific papers, which required them to complete a meta-analysis. These paper were assessed through peer review and ultimately published in an internationally recognised student research journal (PAM Review, UTS ePress). 

As an alternative to more traditional forms of assessment for physics subjects (such as class tests with a final exam), the design of this assessment directly addressed the work ready oriented graduate attributes of the UTS Faculty of Science – Communication Skills, Professional Skills and Lifelong Learning. 

It allows this predominantly theoretical subject to become a practical, student self-managed learning experience that is stimulating and challenging and helps to facilitate desired graduate outcomes that prepare students for their future workplace.

Jurgen Schulte and Neela Griffiths

This clear link to scientific professional practice made for a deeply engaging learning experience, with practical outcomes that students could take into the workplace. Students were also able to gain experience in working as part of a team. Students chose their own focus for the project, which contributed to a higher level of engagement, as they were able to study something that they had personal interest in. 

The assignment has been designed to create an environment similar to the creation of a real scientific publication, including:

– gaining expertise in an unknown topic within a short period of time;
– consulting scientific databases;
– reading peer-reviewed scientific papers and extracting relevant information;
– formulating a research objective for the meta-study;
– writing a paper in a prescribed scientific publication format;
– working in a research team with a range of expertise;
– managing research and paper writing workloads within a team;
– acting as a peer-reviewer for other group papers;
– assessing papers according to prescribed peer-review guidelines;
– completing and submitting the meta-study paper within the journal’s publication timeline.

Jurgen Schulte and Neela Griffiths

The professional peer review process was conducted through the UTS ePRESS journal article submission platform. Students submitted their papers through this platform in two different rounds of peer review. The first round of peer review was required to be completed one week after papers were submitted to the journal, with a set minimum word count for written feedback. Afterwards, students worked on their second draft with the feedback being used to improve their work, which was then submitted through another round of peer review before the groups worked on their final paper. The peer review process was supported by one-on-one consultations with the lecturer “to resolve questions about the paper writing, discipline content as well as group specific issues”. 

Responses from students to the overall assignment were positive, with some mixed responses to the peer review process specifically – while some students found it helpful, others found it burdensome. The students recognised that they needed guidance in this area, as for many, it was a completely new concept. As one student commented, “I wasn’t actually aware that scientific papers were reviewed in this way before publishing”. Students also found it challenging to deliver feedback due to their own inexperience. Citations of resulting students’ work in top range journals like Nature and others highlight the effectiveness of the learning design as well as its high quality of outcome and the lasting tangible value for students.

Watch: the student journey

This project was also captured on video. Catch an in-depth look at the process below.

Feature image by Kwa Nguyen.

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