Improving students' writing skills through effective small-group peer feedback

The Electrical Engineering (EE) department is seriously determined to optimize students’ academic writing performance both at undergraduate and graduate level. Within the department there is special interest to work on new educational methods that can allow effective supervision by researching options to organize feedback. These methods will be researched in order to identify the most suitable one(s) to supply the need for feed-back, feed-up and feed-forward to guarantee that students’ writing skills are at the level of the end qualifications of a Bachelor engineer and a master graduate. Following this, the first experiences will be taken as starting point to exploit, contextualize and adapt within other bachelor and master courses, as these courses are building blocks for the writing skills learning line within the curriculum and academic competences.

The overall goal of the project is to optimize education at the Electrical Engineering department. More specifically, we look at the quality of the writing skills as it is one of the end qualifications of an Electrical Engineer. In addition, the ability of writing a technical report at academic level is one of the learning outcomes of the Bachelor End Project. Within this framework, this project becomes, therefore, an essential undertaking towards assurance the quality of our undergraduate and graduate students.

The innovation project improving students’ writing skills through effective small-group peer feedback was formulated with the rationale to look for practical solutions to address the growth of number of students by introducing peer feedback. The aim was to learn how this method works in order to optimize feedback and relief the teachers’ burden and supervisor’s. With two pilots we have tried to search means to intensify peer feedback in small groups to improve writing skills. In addition, we introduced PEACH as an e-tool to explore whether this platform facilitates the process of giving feedback.

From the pilots we can conclude the following:

Peer feedback is a suitable method to stimulate students’ writing skills learning process;

Peer feedback, if developed appropriately, will support students to become more critical towards themselves and their work;

Students are positive about the involvement of the teachers of their courses in giving feedback to the writing skills and assignments.

ICT platforms, such as PEACH, can facilitate giving feedback.

To integrate peer feedback, students need to be provided with guidelines (criteria or rubrics) in order to guide them in this process;

Training on how to give peer feedback is essential but also to practice. It is also important to have students to reflect upon giving feedback. These are key elements to have a proper integration of ‘peer feedback’ as a method.

In addition, when developing the set-up of the training and working on the materials we also learned that it is of most benefits for the students to work on their writing skills then the assignments are integrated in the ‘real-life’ assignments they have to make to pass the courses.Students are then motivated and work towards meeting the learning outcomes of the course.