Twitter offers users the chance to write and “publish” without any outside editing or comments. That is, authors of tweets have creative freedom and edit themselves. In order for the concept of peer review to be effective on this site means that students would have to tweet writing done for the class and other students would then tweet comments as a way to talk back to their peers.
Kenneth A. Bruffee in “Collaborative Learning: Some Practical Models” claims that students work together outside of the classroom in a variety of ways, and therefore should also be encouraged to work together inside of the classroom. Bruffee suggests that students develop a new kind of awareness when they both listen (read) and comment on others’ writing and says, “People themselves learn, when they teach others” (641).
Because peer review has been around for awhile, it is not an innovative suggestion. But Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch, author of Virtual Peer Review, claims the scholarship on computer-involved peer review is still developing. Two decades after Bruffee, Kastman Breuch suggests that peer review has changed from oral communication to virtual communication: “I define virtual peer review as the activity of using computer technology to exchange and respond to one another’s writing for the purpose of improving writing” (10). She continues on, saying that virtual peer review must be situated so that teaching strategies drive the use of technology.
Taking both theories into account, it should be possible to move peer review to an online space that encourages brief, quick interaction. By doing this, students should be able to learn from each other’s writing and advice. And by giving advice, students will become aware of potential issues their own writing might have. My study attempts to test this assumption.
I advised to tweet their thesis statements for the essay they were currently working on. I then asked students to tweet responses to others’ thesis statements via tweeting, focusing on clarity, strength of the stance, and potential resistance or gaps in the implied argument. I tweeted responses as well.
The participants were the 22 undergraduate students enrolled in English 151: Writing & Rhetoric course. The majority of the class was comprised of first-year students; there were two sophomore students and one junior-level student.
The required material for this activity was a computer and a thesis statement for the current essay. Although in a computer classroom, students often brought in their personal laptops. On particular days, only a few students would access Twitter via a school computer. Students wrote their thesis statements outside of class.
Analysis and Conclusions
I did not find Twitter to be as effective for peer response as I had hoped for two reasons:
- Character limit: Because comments must be shorter and more succinct, some students had difficulties fitting their thesis statements into one tweet, as well as their responses and explanations to other students. Most students recognized whether or not a thesis was strong or weak, but most could not briefly articulate why.
- Chaos: The Twitter feed is similar to 23 people IM-ing at the same time. It is hard to read the thoughts of 23 people at the same time, especially when they are addressing each other.
One suggestion for improving the thesis workshop on Twitter includes forming smaller groups of students—three or four—who would work together outside of class. If students set a specific time to peer review, it could alleviate some of the chaos of an entire class tweeting at once.
I concluded that Twitter is less functional for peer review than are other online spaces such as Facebook or blogs. However, Twitter has other advantages in the classroom, such as classroom communication with the teacher.