Jessie L. Moore (Twitter, LinkedIn) is an Associate Professor of Professional Writing and Rhetoric at Elon University where she teaches a range of courses in first-year writing, rhetoric, professional writing, and a special topics courses in writing for civic action.
Jessie is also one of the bravest Eli users we know. As the coordinator of the 2016 CCCC Undergraduate Poster Session, Jessie led the 7 member planning team and 17 undergraduate presenters in two write-review cycles in Eli Review. Only she had used Eli before. They had no synchronous meetings. And, it worked! Getting students to give each other feedback in Eli led to markedly better posters.
In this interview, we talk with Jessie about how Eli has transformed her longstanding commitment to peer feedback. She shares how spending a few minutes reflecting on comments and talking with students about how they are doing as reviewers has changed how she spends class time.
How important are feedback and revision for becoming a better writer?
Feedback and revision are essential to both effective writing and learning to be a writer regardless of what your discipline is or what your career goal is. The more students get feedback on their work in progress and can make revisions, the better the end product will be and the more they learn about themselves as writers.
If writers continually get feedback, then they realize that they need to rethink how they use evidence for a certain type of audience or maybe they have an organizational strategy that’s not quite working. They can make shifts early enough to actually have a more effective product. The feedback is essential not only to better products but also to helping them improve as writers because then they can take that feedback and use it in their future writing projects as well.
How do you help students value revision?
When I talk to students about feedback as part of a writing process, I actually share that I myself use feedback all the time. I never send something out to publication or share with the public audience unless I’ve gotten feedback on it. Sure, I send out things like emails without any feedback. But, if it’s something that needs to enact change or needs to elicit some kind of response, then I’m always going to be asking my friends, my colleagues, my writing group for feedback.
[I am] helping students see that it’s not just because they are undergraduate students who are in a course. Feedback and revision are part of the natural writing process, and we all benefit from doing it. We also talk a little bit about their previous experiences with feedback. They share
- what’s been most effective,
- what’s been most helpful, and
- what’s been most challenging or discouraging.
That way, when we are starting a feedback cycle in our class, we can use those successful practices and try to avoid some of the practices that have caused them stress in the past.
What appealed to you about Eli?
One of the things that, even as an advocate of peer review processes, I’ve often struggled with is getting students to consistently give effective feedback. Sometimes it feels like something that they just want to check off because they haven’t had really rich experiences with feedback in their other classes.
What Eli does that was so appealing to me is that it helps make the process more visible. Writers can actually rate the feedback that they’re getting.
In the next cycle, we can look at that feedback and say, “Okay, so these comments were not so helpful. What would have made them stronger? Whereas these comments were really strong. So what are the characteristics of those, and how can we replicate some of those characteristics in the next review cycle?”
Being able to make the review process that visible to students and help them think about how they could learn from each iteration was really appealing. I thought it would strengthen the experience for my students.
When you bring Eli into your classroom, how do you explain it to them?
I tell my students that there’s this great new tool on the market that we are going to experiment with and see how it works. It will help make the process more visible to all of us. If they’re getting feedback that’s really helpful, they can tell the reviewers. If they’re getting feedback that maybe could be strengthened, we can look at it together as the class. The idea is that it’s not only going to help them as writers, but it’s also going to help them become better reviewers.
Since many of the classes I teach are with professional writing and rhetoric students, they know that they’re going into fields where they’re expected to give feedback. The more productive feedback they can give, the better they can get at being reviewers, giving comments that are helpful, the more employable they’re going to be, the more they will have success in whatever their career goals are. We just build on that enthusiasm. It’s not just about improving the writing and improving as a writer–although it is certainly about that–but it is also about learning to be better reviewers.
How have students responded to it?
They’ve been very supportive of it. They’ve liked the experience, and they loved that [Eli] does make things visible and makes it a little bit more streamlined.
- They like that it’s not just anchored (contextual) comments and final comments, which were to two of the options.
- We also use trait identification quite often, and that helps them very clearly give feedback. “You said that you thought that you did that, but I couldn’t find it, so I’m not gonna mark it off.” “There were these characteristics that we were looking for in this assignment; you’ve got some of them, not all of them.” It makes it very visible to them.
- They also like the rating possibilities that they can actually give a star rating and explain their rating. That just makes it a little bit more dynamic than some of the peer review processes that they have participated in the past.
Students have been very enthusiastic about trying it and experimenting with it. We’ve tried it with different assignments, and it doesn’t always work quite the way we think it will, but they’re rolling with it, and they appreciate that overall it’s been a great tool for them.
Has using Eli stretched you at all as an instructor?
Using Eli has absolutely stretched me as an instructor. There are things that I did in print forms and in [Microsoft] Word comments that I’m now doing in Eli. Eli has made me realize that I wasn’t really taking enough time to look at comments with students. Taking that extra step of saying, “Okay, this comment was highly rated as being very helpful. Let’s look at the characteristics of it.” Taking the time to do that analysis of the feedback they’re giving is not something I was in the practice of doing, but it’s so helpful for students. So, that’s one way that it stretched me.
We also were using Eli Review for the CCCC undergraduate research poster session for 2016, and one of the things that we realized is when you are giving feedback as a small group of faculty and some graduates who might be near peers to the presenters, you can do the turnaround really quickly. But sometimes if you are using a tool like Eli Review to do more peer feedback, you have to build in more time, and we didn’t always think about that as we were planning the event. So we’ve learned along the way that giving time to each step of the process, giving feedback along the way, and (getting a little bit meta) giving feedback on how you’re giving feedback, those are important steps that I think I had overlooked in some of my prior teaching.
What was it like using Eli to prep the CCCC Undergraduate poster session?
We were delighted to be able to use Eli Review for the poster session. In previous years, we really had not been able to facilitate very robust peer review. We’d really relied on a planning team to give feedback to the students.
This year with Eli, we were able to pair these students, and let them give feedback on each other’s drafts, which meant that not only were they getting really robust feedback, but they were also seeing each others’ posters in advance. They could take ideas that they saw in the text and the layout, and apply it to their own posters.
We experimented with it a little bit. One of the things that was helpful was we could actually do a review that was just on the textual content and then also a review on the actual layout of the posters.
- With the textual content, students could copy and paste the text into Eli, and then they could get feedback that was anchored to specific parts of that text.
- They were also able to upload the actual visual layout screenshot or PDF or whatever format was working best for them, and that allowed us to also make sure they got feedback on the design of the poster.
There were a couple students who did not participate in the review process, and going around this poster session, we could see who had participated and who had not. I don’t want to single out those who did not; their work was still good; but it was nice to see how much the use of Eli improved the content and design of posters for the students who had taken that step.
Have you discovered anything about teaching writing with Eli?
I’m a big advocate of peer review, and it didn’t occur to me previously to really give feedback on the comments that students were giving. It should have been obvious, perhaps; it’s part of helping them learn to be better reviewers. But Eli made it so easy to stop and look, “Ok, so these are the comments that students are finding helpful. Why is that? Let’s talk about it. These are comments that are not helpful, so let’s talk about how they could be strengthened and improved.” That’s something that probably should have been the second nature to someone who is an advocate for peer learning and peer review, but it just was not something that had crossed my mind to slow down and take time to do until I started working with Eli, and it was so easy to see those types of comparisons.
How would you explain Eli to a new instructor?
For teachers who are already committed to peer review, Eli Review is a way to make the peer review process more visible and to strengthen their existing practices. It’s really helpful for not only improving the product that students are working on, but also helping students learn to give better feedback and then to do things with that feedback. The revision plan feature, for instance, is something that really makes it easy for students to say, “Ok, so this is a really helpful comment. I’m going to take that into my revision plan, and then prioritize the comments I’m getting from a couple others, from my instructor, from my own self assessment, and figure out what I need to do next with that product.”
Eli is very comprehensive in terms of taking a lot of strategies that we think of as best practices in writing and unifying them in an easy to use interface that students can engage with while tracking their own progress. It takes those practices that we already want to do and think of as best practices and makes it easier to do them. I think it makes them more effective as well.