Networked Peer Assessment in Writing: Copyediting Skills
Instruction in an ESL Technical Writing Course
Ted Knoy, San-Ju Lin, Zhi-Feng Liu, Shyan-Min
National Chiao Tung University
Submitted to ICCE 2001 (Seoul, Korea), November 11-14, 2001
Although the effectiveness of peer assessment in writing
is well documented, the feasibility of applying networked
peer assessment to writing has not been examined. In addition
to outlining procedures of networked peer assessment in an
ESL (English as a Second Language) technical writing course
at two universities in northern Taiwan, this study applies
a networked peer assessment system known as NetPeas to improve
the copyediting skills of Taiwanese graduate students. The
instructor and student's perceptions on the merits of using
networked peer assessment to improve their writing skills
are also discussed.
Keywords: Peer assessment, networked
peer assessment, ESL technical writing
Among the many innovative assessment methods developed in
recent years include the extensive use of peer, cooperative,
self and portfolio assessment (1, 8, 27, 29, 32). This study
attempts to reinforce the copyediting skills taught in a graduate
level ESL technical writing course in two universities in
northern Taiwan by applying a networked peer assessment system
developed at National Chiao Tung University, known as NetPeas.
Peer assessment, a natural process used from childhood onwards
to critically evaluate peers, has been extensively studied
in higher education in recent decades (27, 29). Higher education
researchers who explored the validity, reliability and practicalities
of peer assessment have generally conferred on its acceptability
(10, 11,16, 23, 30). However, to our knowledge, the feasibility
of applying networked peer assessment to writing courses has
never been explored.
Our previous studies designed a Networked Peer assessment
system known as NetPeas (5, 18). Liu adopted NetPeas in peer
assessment activities of an undergraduate Operating Systems
course (17). In this study, NetPeas is adopted to improve
the copyediting skills of Taiwanese graduate students performing
peer assessment in an ESL technical writing course.
Topping (29) defined "peer" as a student with similar
educational qualifications or knowledge, who grades or offers
suggestions concerning another student's work. Peer assessment
has been used in several higher education subjects such as
writing composition, civil engineering, sciences, electrical
engineering, information, arts, and social sciences. Many
other researchers' experiences of peer assessment, as a formative
assessment method and as part of the learning process, can
enable students to become more involved in learning and in
the assessment process; they view peer assessment as fair
and accurate as well (27). Falchikov (9) and Freeman (11)
indicated a fairly high level of agreement between the marks
given by peers and those given by the teacher. Cheng and Warren
(4) confirmed that evaluating a particular task could improve
students' assessment skills when assessing a similar task.
Despite its merits, peer assessment is limited by corrections
made based on friendship and decibel marking (24, 28).
Peer assessment of writing and ESL (English as a Second
Language) writing instruction
Extensively studied for nearly three decades, peer assessment
of writing has been applied to diverse curricula such as composition,
technical and business writing, psychology, social science,
engineering, geography and computing. In his thorough review
of peer assessment research, Topping (30) concluded that peer
assessment of writing appears to yield outcomes at least as
effective, and occasionally better than, teacher assessment.
Richer (26) compared the effects of peer group discussion
of essays with teacher discussion and feedback. Holistic scoring
of 174 pre- and post-test essays from 87 university freshmen
indicated that the writing proficiency of the peer feedback
group (at p=0.009) was higher than that of teacher feedback
group. While comparing teacher, peer and self-assessment of
writing up of pharmacology practicals, Hughes (13) found them
Of particular relevance to this study is peer assessment
for ESL (English as a Second Language) writing instruction
since the participants in this study were non-native English
speakers. Related research has cited peer assessment in this
area of writing as having the following merits: a) bringing
a genuine of sense of audience into the writing classroom
(14, 22), b) facilitating the development of students' critical
reading and analysis skills (3, 14), and c) encouraging students
to focus on their intended meaning by discussing alternative
points of view that can lead to the development of those ideas
(7, 19, 21). In a writing class, Graner (12) compared peer
assessment effects of two groups, one that mutually exchanged
feedback and another that gave feedback without receiving
peer feedback. After receiving initial peer assessment, subjects
in both groups handed in revised essays. Teacher assessment
revealed that both groups significantly improved over two
rounds of peer assessment, while providing feedback without
receiving it still enhanced writing performance. Related studies
conferred that, through peer assessment, students can occasionally
be more adept to a student's work as truly being in progress
than the teachers, who tend to judge the work as a finished
product (2, 6). Medonca and Johnson (21) found, through interviews,
that all students in their study found peer review helpful
in regard to audience perspective and idea development. As
to whether students use peer feedback in their revisions,
that same study found that 53% of revisions made in student's
essays were a result of peer comments being incorporated into
their essays. Stanley (28) similarly found that when students
were trained how to effectively respond to peer comments,
the number of revisions made increased. Mangelsdorf &
Schlumberger (20) found that most students adopted a "prescriptive"
rather than "collaborative" stance when they responded
to their peers, thus making it necessary for teachers to train
students in successful peer review techniques and also to
provide opportunities for effective peer interaction.
Despite the considerable attention paid to peer assessment
of writing, to our knowledge, this study describes for the
first time networked peer assessment in this area. As mentioned
in other related studies (Liu et al., in press), networked
peer assessment has several advantages over traditional peer
assessment, such as a higher assurance of anonymity, increased
freedom of time and location for learners, and ability of
students to modify their work more efficiently. These advantages
will hopefully contribute to the effectiveness of peer assessment
101 graduate level students in engineering and science from
two technical writing courses of the Communication Engineering
Department and the Information Science and Engineering Department
at two research-oriented universities in northern Taiwan participated
in four rounds of a networked peer assessment system known
as NetPeas. The students also met individually with the instructor
to correct the assignments and discuss the challenges in using
this novel system. The same students completed 52 copyediting
exercises in class over a fourteen-week period (3 exercises
weekly). While the classroom exercises aimed to orient students
on basic copyediting skills, the four rounds of networked
peer assessment provided students with a more realistic environment
to submit their assignments, anonymously review other classmates'
assignments, and modify their own assignments based on peer
Procedures and criteria
The students attended a weekly technical writing course and
submitted eight homework assignments through four rounds of
networked peer assessment (Fig. 1), with each round lasting
three weeks. The assignments focused on instructing students
how to organize and write a research paper for publication
in international journals. In particular, each student had
to submit the following assignments: (assignment 1) research
title, engineering/scientific objective, engineering/scientific
motivation, and personal motivation; (assignment 2) outline
for technical argument; (assignment 3) technical argument;
(assignment 4) description of engineering/scientific need
for their research, problem statement and hypothesis statement;
5) an abstract; 6) an introduction; 7) a conclusion; and 8)
twelve technical correspondence letters.
|Figure 1: Demo of submitting homework to NetPeas (adopted
Students were also taught copyediting skills through 52 copyediting
exercises in class (with each exercise containing roughly
10 to 12 sentences for revision) over a fourteen week period
(3 exercises weekly). The copyediting exercises focused on
helping students identify and correct writing style errors
a) Conciseness, i.e. using active voice frequently, using
verbs instead of nouns, a) creating strong verbs, avoiding
sentences that begin with It and There, and deleting redundant
and needless phrases, and
b) Clarity, i.e. ensuring subject and verb agreement, ensuring
that pronoun references are clear in meaning, creating sentences
parallel in structure and meaning, eliminating modifier problems,
eliminating modifier problems, double checking for faulty
comparisons and omissions, and avoiding unnecessary shifts
in a sentence.
Before the first round of peer assessment, students were
instructed on how to use the NetPeas system to simulate the
actual process for submitting research findings to an international
journal and to refine the copyediting skills taught in the
class exercises by anonymously reviewing homework assignments
for writing style errors. Additionally, the students and the
instructor discussed the following criteria for grading and
correcting peer's homework assignments:
a) Structure: Each class assignment had to follow the structure
outlined in the course syllabus. For instance, a student could
not submit an abstract not structured based on syllabus requirements.
b) Style: Each class assignment had to be written in clear
and concise English, omitting any grammatical, general writing
style, or Chinese colloquial errors.
c) Usability: Each class assignment not only had to have a
particular audience in mind, but also had to attempt to link
the technical information with the particular reader's interest(s).
In depth interviews with students and attitudinal surveys
revealed that using a networked system to facilitate peer
assessment has the following merits over traditional peer
1. Higher assurance of anonymity.
2. Increased freedom of time and location for the instructor
3. Cross-platform tools for hypertext access.
4. Increased student-student interaction and feedback.
In another effort to employ networked peer assessment, Kwok
& Ma utilized Group Support System (GSS) so that teachers
and students could participate in the assessment process collaboratively
(15). Students were encouraged to formulate evaluation criteria
and weighting with the teacher. In addition to collaborative
assessment, students were allowed to assess peers as well
as their own selves. Students in the GSS-supported collaborative
assessment achieved better grades than those in face-to-face
collaborative assessment. Similarly, Rada supervised three
small-size classes using Many Using and Creating Hypermedia
(MUCH) to facilitate peer assessment in which computer science
students attempted to solve exercise problems and submitted
solutions for peer review (25). According to their results,
students could learn effectively only if they were highly
motivated and the grading policy required mandatory peer assessment.
In this study, despite the initial unfamiliarity with using
the NetPeas system, a majority of the students agreed that
networked peer assessment provides a more effective means
of learning copyediting skills than merely taking classroom
exercises. They attributed this difference to that the former
provides a more realistic environment to refine their skills
as opposed to the traditional paper and pencil examination,
which could be easily memorized without understanding the
context of the textbook.
This study has examined the feasibility of applying networked
peer assessment to two ESL technical writing courses in graduate
level at two universities in northern Taiwan. Applying the
same method to other subjects would not necessarily yield
the same results, particularly for undergraduate students
lacking the necessary academic skills and motivation. Results
for native English speaking graduate students may differ from
those in this study as well. Nevertheless, this study provides
a valuable reference for instructors seeking innovative ways
of incorporating the computer into the ESL writing classroom.
The authors would like to thank the National Science Council
of the Republic of China for financially supporting this research
under Contract No. NSC 89-2520-S-009-013 & NSC89-2520-S-009-016.
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