Using peer feedback in courses

This paper is about a study conducted at a Norwegian university. They offer a web-based Masters program in Education which includes a written master thesis as a main focus of the curriculum. Writing, then, is a cultural tool that supports learning in the program. The researchers designed a successful program that incorporated what we know about the value of communities and peer feedback.

I think it is important to note that their program was designed to span across four years, which gives learners a long time to become accustomed to giving and receiving peer feedback — something that might be harder to replicate in a shorter timeframe.

Dysthe, O., and Lillejord, S. (2012) ‘From Humboldt to Bologna: using peer feedback to foster productive writing practices among online Master students’, International Journal of Web Based Communities, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 471-485 [Online], DOI: 10.1504/IJWBC.2012.049561


  1. Introduction
  2. Theoretical framework: a dialogical view of knowledge, learning, and technology
  3. Trends in writing and feedback research
  4. Methods
  5. Academic leadership and the structuring of study design
  6. Students’ experience of building a community of writers
  7. Discussion
    1. A community of writers
    2. A broader notion of academic leadership
    3. How can dialogism enhance our understanding of productive peer feedback?
    4. Productive and counterproductive aspects of Humboldt in light of Bologna
  8. Implications


Theoretical background

The authors’ approach is grounded in sociocultural theories, especially those of dialogism (learning that happens through dialogue). In particular, they make use of Bakhtin’s ideas of peer feedback. ‘Organising students in online groups is one way of designing a framework conducive for interdependent meaning-making; what we refer to as productive feedback’ (Dysthe and Lillejord, 2012, p. 474).

In this case, they are looking at how people can use the learning management system (LMS) to support learning by dialogue. This requires the learners to form a community. One challenge is that students may come to the course with a “consumer” mindset or approach to learning. To be successful, the course design must:

Course design

The master program is designed for part-time students to complete within 4 years.

They take courses in the first 2 years, meeting face-to-face twice per year and completing 8 to 10 writing assignments each year. The writing assignments are designed to foster learning about the topic at hand, and also learning about academic writing. They get feedback on their writing, which they use to revise their drafts.

In the second 2 years, they write their thesis.


At first, some students were reluctant to accept feedback from anyone except their teacher, and some did not want to share unfinished work. They later saw the process as critical to their learning and important for writing their master thesis. They felt like they were members of a community that cared about each others’ writing, and this served as the motivation they needed to find the time to provide feedback.

Because the students provided high-quality feedback to each other, this reduced the idea that feedback should only come from the teacher. They also felt that learned by giving high-quality feedback.

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