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Tips from Eli Review Instructors

Eli Review is a peer learning app, helping students learn to give better feedback and use it to revise.

Instructors using Eli rely on peer learning too. We help each other teach—rather than merely assign—feedback and revision. Reflecting on her experiences using Eli this year, Libby Miles at the University of Vermont observed:

There is no question that I’m getting better writing from both of my classes because of Eli. Importantly, the better I get at teaching with it, the better it works for students. I think that’s a key point that you know well: Eli alone isn’t a magic bullet — we have to use the tool well.

Using Eli well means fitting into your course plan, so we a asked several Eli instructors to share a syllabus, a screenshot of their Eli dashboard, and their top teaching tips. We’ve arranged their materials in Google Drive Folders:

Here are the top 5 themes from their teaching tips for using Eli well:

1. Establish a Routine

Routines are predictable practice rounds. To improve, students need deliberate practice as reviewers and as writers. A one-week or two-week write-review-revise cycle seems to work well for several Eli instructors, and they’ve made their syllabus and Eli dashboards available in these Google drive folders: Libby Miles (University of Vermont), Jo Lien (North Idaho College), and John Holland, Martha Rusk, & Joan Wong (San Francisco State University).

Libby Miles explains the routine in her syllabus for first-year as well as upper-division writing this way:

Our Weekly Rhythm (Tu/Th, Spring 2017): Learning doesn’t just happen during the 75 minutes of each class session. Therefore, this class has deadlines between class sessions that are crucially important. There is a regular, predictable rhythm to it, which you can count on, and load into your calendars now.

  • Tuesday before class: complete all readings, as assigned
  • Tuesday by midnight: writing task due in Eli Review
  • Wednesday by midnight: review your peers in Eli Review
  • Thursday before class: complete all readings, as assigned
  • Thursday by midnight: rate the reviews you received and complete Revision Plan in Eli Review
  • Sunday by midnight: final versions due to BlackBoard, when applicable.

Of her routine, Libby noted:

The routines are very predictable, which I’m finding encourages high participation rates. In the MWF course I debriefed *every* Wednesday without fail, and students noted in their end-of-semester response that they found the debriefs to be one of the most helpful aspects of the course. This semester, in my TR class, we debrief every Thursday without fail. These students, too, seem to value the debriefs. This semester, too, I’ve been diligent about commenting (at least briefly) on every revision plan. For the students who stayed in the course, their writing has been some of the best I’ve seen in 20 years of teaching.

Similarly, John Holland’s top advice is to “never vary the day that work is due.” The routine is important.

2. Scaffold Projects in Small Bits

The weekly routine is less intimidating when you think of projects developing in small bits. Once you’ve committed to a routine, ask: “What small bit of writing can student share at this point and what kinds of feedback will move them forward?”

Casey McArdle (Michigan State University) assigns at least two reviews per project. The first review focuses on the outline and the second on a direction draft. Take a look at Casey’s materials in this Google drive folder.

Jo Lien (North Idaho College) has developed a 5-week span for write-review-revise cycles for projects in her hybrid courses:

  • Week 1: Introduce project
  • Week 2: Peer review of research questions or research proposal
  • Week 3: Peer review of a paragraph based on early research
  • Week 4: Peer review of a paragraph based on note-taking writing and/or early drafting
  • Week 5: Peer review of complete rough draft

Check out more of Jo’s materials and advice from this Google drive folder.

3. Start by Increasing Students’ Trust and Know How

Many Eli instructors don’t start students on writing projects in the first week or two of the term. Instead, they focus on building community and helping students develop confidence in their abilities to give and receive helpful feedback. Instructors at North Idaho College and San Francisco State University use Eli’s open-source “Framing Feedback and Revision” tasks, which can be loaded from the library into any course.

Although most students find using Eli to be straightforward, users’ attention during the first few attempts is split between the learning goal (what am I supposed to be thinking?) and the pragmatics of using the system (where’s the button I need to click?). These low-stakes write-review-revise cycles help students get past the newness of the interface before they start working on their writing projects. They also establish a vocabulary and set of expectations around feedback and revision.

John Holland at San Francisco State University noted that these introductory conversations are foundational:

I’ve found that “Feedback & Improvement” and “Rethinking & Revising” are helpful in setting the tone as well as establishing expectations. I can hear the difference in our class discussions on feedback compared to last semester when I did not begin with these lessons. I’ve got everybody on board with the idea of the value of peer feedback whereas last semester I found that I had to spend the entire semester prodding the students along.

4. Grade simply

Grades motivate, and instructors grade to motivate peer learning in different ways.

Some take a holistic approach by grading overall participation at the end of the term based on information from Analytics or the completion report. Others deduct up to 10% per paper if students skipped out on the peer learning for that project.

Other instructors grade each review tasks individually.

For example, Kendra Flournoy (Western Michigan University; check out her materials in the Google drive folder) uses Eli as part of students’ daily assignments/participation grades. If students submit their work, they’ve secured half of the points. The other half is determined by the quality of their responses such as meeting the criteria outlined in directions and providing quality feedback to peers.

In a similar way, John Holland and a group of San Francisco State University instructors use a rubric for weekly participation grades that represents 30% of the final course grade. John’s approach is to offer students 8 points for doing the minimum each week. He looks at the analytics in order to dock points for students who don’t meet the minimum and reward students who go beyond it. With this engagement rubric and Eli’s engagement analytics, John can enter grades in iLearn (his campus LMS)  for almost 100 students in about 15 minutes.

I will evaluate your engagement each week on a 10-point scale:

If you complete all parts of the Eli Review Cycle on time, you will receive 8 points.

Importantly, you will meet the minimum word count specified in each component of the Eli Review Cycle.

  • In-text comments – 25 words
  • Final comments – 150 words
  • Revision plan response to feedback – 25 words
  • Revision plan summary notes – 150 words

If you go above and beyond simply completing these assignments, and actively engage in helping peers by using the describe-evaluate-suggest heuristic, you will receive 9 points.

When your classmates give high ratings for the helpfulness of your feedback and when I endorse many of your comments, and your comments have been added to revision plans you can receive 10 points.

You will receive 7 or fewer points if . . .

  • your feedback does not include all aspects of the describe-evaluate-suggest heuristic.
  • readers cannot understand your otherwise helpful feedback because you write grammatically unclear sentences yourself.
  • you write comments that use hurtful language, are aggressive, offensive or just plain rude.
  • your own writing is late or your feedback does not arrive in time for it to be helpful to a classmate who needs to write a revision plan.
  • you don’t make a daily habit of checking the status of tasks in Eli Review and staying current on your postings, feedback, revision plan and revisions.

5. Connect with other Eli instructors

Learning together is powerful. It’s ideal to be able to knock on a neighbor’s door and talk through a flickering idea, a burning question, or a smoldering problem.

How instructors collaborate with each other and the Eli Review team looks different on every campus.

  • At University of Vermont, Libby Miles and Susanmarie Harrington arranged my (Melissa) campus visit, hosted faculty work sessions throughout the term, and facilitated an end-of-term video conference with the Eli team.
  • At San Francisco State University, I met with a group of instructors each Friday for a 30-minute office hour.
  • At Western Michigan University, Kendra Flournoy and I worked together on a sandbox and instructor orientation manual; Kendra led the on-campus training, and I ran a couple of video conferences.
  • At Montcalm Community College, I conducted a summer workshop on-campus, and then led an email discussion every couple of weeks.
  • Some instructors use our searchable support or contact [email protected].
  • Other instructors engage with each other and our team on Facebook and Twitter or on email and our newsletter.
  • And, always feel free to knock on my door via email ([email protected]).

Cover photo credit: Ground Report

Tips from Eli Review Instructors was published to the Eli Review Blog in the categories Hacks, Pedagogy.

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