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Improve Your Student’s Writing Skills in Your Online Course with Peer Coaching

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By James W. Brown, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Science and Former Dean of Science, Engineering, Health Sciences and Human Performance, Ocean County College

Peer coaching is a great opportunity to develop your online course community and encourage collaborative learning. The first time I used this approach was for online research papers at an urban campus, New Jersey City University, where it significantly improved the writing skills of a diverse student body, where students hail from almost every corner of the planet. I found the technique worked equally well in 100- and 200-level courses at Ocean County College, a community college with a more homogeneous student body.

It takes the entire semester to fully implement the approach, due to the amount of time needed for the back and forth between the instructor, the student writing the paper, and the peer coach.  Weighting the assignment heavily—as 20 percent of the course grade—stresses the assignment's significance.

First, the instructor should help the student narrow his or her topic to something manageable, and assign him or her with a peer coach (another student in the class), and provide the scoring rubrics. The student submits his or her first draft to his or her peer coach, rather than to the instructor.  After the peer coach returns his or her comments to the author, and the student will submit his or her second draft, along with the peer assessment, to the online instructor.

After reviewing the submission, the instructor should return it to the student, with his or her comments and suggestions, without a grade.  The student will write and submit the final draft for a grade. The peer coach also receives a grade for the quality of their peer assessment.

It is important to provide students with online writing resources, such as Purdue Univerisity's formatting and style guide, Open Writing Laboratory for APA (American Psychological Association), and the Son of Citation Machine which helps students cite references properly.  Both offer valuable resources long after the course concludes.  Students should also become familiar with Lycoming College’s Plagiarism Goblin Game, which offers a fun interactive way to become aware of, and learn how to avoid, plagiarism.  Instructors can use or copy and paste suspicious writing portions into Google for additional quality assurance. 

Peer review emphasizes the importance of writing as a process. Unlike a typical term paper, where students submit their final work for a grade, students have multiple opportunities to refine and improve the quality of their written work.  Peer reviewers learn how to provide valuable feedback to their student colleagues.  Peer coaching is a great example of learner-centered teaching and collaborative learning.  It allows students to experience community in the online course environment.

-- Published in ITC's Spring 2012 Newsletter