Jodie LUU Tran Huynh Loan
Centre for English Language Communication (CELC)
Jodie reflects on applying MS Teams and CoI to build a sustainable peer learning culture in her writing and communication module.
The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has prompted the National University of Singapore (NUS) to implement a series of measures to ensure teaching and learning continuity around the campus. E-learning has become an indispensable part of the NUS learning environment, and the communication and collaboration platform Microsoft Teams (MS Teams) made it to the list of applications within the e-learning toolkit recommended by the Centre for Instructional Technology (CIT) for colleagues and students.
My first encounter with MS Teams, however, did not start with COVID-19. Instead, it began with my search for a better approach to facilitate peer review activities for the flipped module FAS1102 “Public Writing and Communication”.
Undoubtedly, peer review activities can activate a metacognitive thinking process that helps peer reviewers to reflect, crystalise, and consolidate their understanding of persuasive public writing and communication. However, how can such activities be carried out effectively when some students might not be motivated to give feedback simply because “the only opinion that matters is the instructor’s” (Nilson, 2002)?
Having facilitated countless tutorial discussions in the past ten years, I have noticed that students respond more positively in an open, inclusive, and nurturing environment. Therefore, for the persuasive writing assignment in FAS1102, I decided to harness the collaborative qualities of MS Teams as well as apply the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000) to create a community of learners that could traverse both online and offline environments during the peer review process.
Guided by CoI’s fundamental elements—social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence—I designed a peer review workflow where the tutor’s instructions would chart the direction of the activity and students’ engagement sustains it (see Figure 1).
As I monitored the peer review process, I was pleasantly surprised to see the emergence of quality feedback that led to tangible and positive change in the writing quality. For instance, a student submitted a first draft about mental health stigma among youth, and a peer suggested including a point about familial love and support (see Figure 2).
After follow-up discussions with the peer reviewer and tutor (myself), the student was able to shape the final draft nicely, driving home a compelling key message about the importance of familial support for youth struggling with mental illnesses (see Figure 3).
Evidently, the peer reviewers were cognitively engaged in the activity. Their comments were focused and constructive. In this example (Figure 3), it was observed that metacognitive thinking also took place as the student writer acknowledged her classmates’ opinions and factored those comments in the revision of the final draft.
And with that, a peer learning culture emerged.
Interestingly, the absence of anonymity on MS Teams seemed to play a role in initiating this culture. It sent a clear signal to all students that peer review should be taken seriously in this open and transparent platform. It also reinforced the need for peer reviewers to be accountable for the feedback they provide.
However, accountability and transparency alone would not be enough to motivate students. They might just put on a show since they are being watched, a.k.a. the Hawthorne effect. Indeed, it is the interplay among the three elements that characterise the CoI framework—social, cognitive and teaching presences—that helps to ease students into the peer review process, which can lead them to the realisation that peer feedback can be enhanced through their active engagement (Figure 4).
As we all gear up to adopt technology in our teaching and learning in response to the COVID-19 situation and beyond, I hope my humble experiment with MS Teams and CoI as a pedagogical framework has shown the possibility of using such applications to create a sustainable peer learning culture. After all, even in a technology-enhanced classroom, effective teaching and learning can only take place if both learners and facilitators are present socially and cognitively.
Jodie LUU is currently an instructor at the CELC. She is passionate about harnessing the power of digital technologies to create an inclusive, interactive and learner-centred classroom. Having tutored the flipped module FAS1102 “Public Writing and Communication” since 2016 as well as being involved in co-developing an iMOOC for the NUS community (ELC002 “Effective Online Writing”) and an edX MOOC for global learners (in progress), she is particularly interested in research on pedagogies for MOOCs as well as blended and flipped classrooms.
Jodie can be reached at email@example.com.
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T, & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2), 87–105. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6
Nilson, B. L. (2002). Helping students help each other: Making peer feedback more valuable. Retrieved from http://podnetwork.org/content/uploads/V14-N5-Nilson.pdf.